Cyberspace law enforcement in Africa: Skilling the enforcers of law and order across the region
Africa is a very challenging area to fight cybercrime, especially in this scenario. There has been an increasing cybercrime in the region attributed to vulnerable systems and the laxity of cybersecurity practices. In many African economies, Cybersecurity is considered a luxury, not a necessity. After the Corona Crisis, this would, unfortunately, not change. Now we see terrorist groups in Africa leveraging cyberspace. We hear and read about Boko Haram and other terrorist group going online. However, there has been development in the region. The Afripol has gone live. An online ceremony has launched INTERPOL’s operational working relationship with Afripol, an African Union (AU) Mechanism for Police Cooperation. The two organizations will now implement their joint action plan to position Afripol as a strategic Pan-African policing partner and strengthen Africa’s fight against terrorism and cybercrime.
A significant problem in Africa is related to the lack of awareness among Internet users to protect themselves from rising cyber threats. Most people in Africa could be more tech-savvy and are getting connected to the Internet for the first time. Also, most don’t know English and therefore find it challenging to use cybersecurity products developed in English.
The continent needs more cybersecurity expertise. It is estimated that Africa will need more than 100,000 cybersecurity personnel by 2020.
It is also studied that the West African Criminal Culture is more forgiving of fraud and cybercrime. Primarily when it is targeted at foreigners. For example, in Ghana, Sakawa is a ritualized practice of online fraud, enabling a cultural mindset encouraging cybercrime. These ritualistic practices also set a legitimate base for cybercriminals to defraud foreign victims online to escape poverty.
In this situation, we see technology and financial problems. Cybercriminals are exploiting the panic situation; everyone wants to get all information they possibly can. However, there needs to be a security protocol around it. This becomes a significant time for cybercriminals to get their act together. Whether it is the lower-level Yahoo Boys or the upper-level Next Gen Criminals, this is the time when people are propagating fake news. This is when they are trying to get into social engineering, and even nation-states are trying to discover the vulnerabilities in Cyber-Physical Systems. Stuxnet-like operations are being orchestrated with lesser humans or workforce and lesser attention from the cybersecurity point of view. Therefore this is the time people need to talk about the cybersecurity aspect and make people aware.
However, it is of lower priority during the pandemic. Now, from my academic input, fake news social engineering is not new. Our ability to deal with this attack is unique in this particular environment. So, we need to be vigilant about two aspects. First, to find how we can contain this. This will fall under the ambit of the law enforcement agencies. Second, decide on how we positively engage cybercriminals. A report by INTERPOL highlights that 30% of human resources are unpaid in the region which calls for a review mechanism. This is when policymakers need to focus on positively engaging unemployed graduates so we don’t get into cybercrime. Cyberdiplomacy can become a way forward in finding out solutions in the region.