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Safer Internet Day highlights Africa's online challenge

By , Portals editor
Africa , 07 Feb 2023

Cyber security experts warn of the need to treat social media platforms like TikTok with caution.

Today the world marks Safer Internet Day, a reminder that emerging online issues like cyber bullying and harmful online experiences continue to pose a threat to users, especially, the youth.

Mobile telecommunications services provider Uswitch claims over half of 12 -15 year-olds have had some form of harmful online experience, one in eight young people have been bullied through social media, and 53% of 11-16 year-olds have seen explicit material online.

Uswitch has also found that six in ten parents are aware of the various technical tools and parental controls available, but only a third actually use them.

The company has emphasised the role of parental controls, which it explains is a set of measures and limits you can apply to your child’s internet devices and accounts to prevent access to upsetting or inappropriate content online.

Uswitch identifies several types of parental controls, including websites, smartphones, online gaming and streaming, which can be used to manage search engines, prevent money being spent online, keep track of your child’s location, to teach cyber safety habits and etiquette, and implement screen time limits.

Max Beckett, broadband expert at says: “With the online world becoming increasingly intertwined with our children’s lives, parental controls should be a tool that all caregivers know how to use. Sadly, with only one in three parents currently using the controls available to them, there needs to be a better understanding on how to use them.

“It’s very easy to stumble upon harmful content on the web, so it’s natural that we would want to protect our children from that. However, parental controls are useful for much more. They give us the ability to teach our children how to use the internet wisely, and what is trustworthy or not — which are critical life skills in this day and age. While it’s frustrating that different devices and platforms all have different sets of parental controls, setting them up on as many devices as you can is the best way to plug all the gaps. It will help you ensure that your child can enjoy everything they want from the internet with minimal risks to their safety.”

Africa under attack

The message to do as much as possible to make the internet safer is amplified by market research from cybersecurity specialists like Check Point.

According to the Check Point Software 2022 Security Report, Africa experienced the highest volume of cyber attacks in the world last year. The company stressed that organisations and consumers must become more aware of the threats they face in the digital landscape.

During the past six months, Check Point Research has seen an increase in cyber attacks targeting the government, insurance, and finance sectors in South Africa.

The company adds that on average, there have been more than 1 450 attacks per week in the country.

“This trend will likely continue over the coming months as more threats start coming from cloud and mobile platforms. Threat actors will not limit their focus to South Africa and will potentially target countries across the continent,” says Check Point.

It points to the impact of cloud adoption in Africa and the emergence of supply chain attacks, as well as of remote workers and increasing concern over malware.

Check Point anticipates that these supply chain attacks will continue through 2023 with a significant amount of risk coming from the open source community.

“Typically, suppliers relying on these open source systems have not properly vetted them or have been lax in managing these environments, resulting in cybersecurity weak points emerging,” Check Point continues.

Globally, ransomware was the number one threat in 2022. Uncertainty across the various African economies around service delivery and critical infrastructure will likely see more countries face cyber attacks targeting the government.

According to Check Point, the number of cyber threats reported to the Kenyan National Cyber Crime Centre (NCC) in the first quarter of the 2022/23 year rose by almost 200%.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) said the number of cyber attacks detected in the country in the three months ending September 2022 stood at 278 million. This is almost three times the number of threats reported in previous quarter.

The country has implemented a number of initiatives to strengthen its cybersecurity infrastructure, including the establishment of the National Cyber Security Authority and the National Computer Incident Response Team (National KE-CIRT/CC).

Their mandate is to coordinate response and manage cybersecurity incidents nationally and to collaborate with relevant actors locally, regionally, and internationally.

"There is simply no respite from ransomware and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. This puts users under increasing pressure to keep up to date with the latest trends in the threat landscape. We know that these criminals are continually evolving in how they develop and perpetrate attacks. With smaller, more agile malicious groups looking to exploit any potential weak points in company and end user defences, people cannot afford to not take cybersecurity seriously,” says Pankaj Bhula, Regional Director for Africa at Check Point.

Social media threat

Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa, says video-sharing social media platform TikTok is so addictive and attention-grabbing, and this makes it a risk for younger people and those who can become easily addicted to social media.

KnowBe4 Africa adds that TikTok is currently creating more viral content than any other platform on the market right now, and has increased its first-time installation base by 400% year-on-year with 740 million new users joining the platform in 2021, according to Statista.

Further research has found that it is currently the fifth most used social media platform according to global active users, and has one billion active users every month.

This is wonderful for marketers and content teams, but it should come with a warning says Collard.

“Mindfulness is key when it comes to engaging with activities online,” she explains. “When you are aware of your clicks and the content you are absorbing, you are more likely to make the right decisions around what kind of content you absorb and where you go to consume it. However, TikTok’s fast pace and attention-grabbing immediacy is all about making users mindlessly scrolling and want more.”

In a recent analysis of TikTok, Professor Mary Aiken says: “I was on TikTok for three days. I also found it to be highly manipulative, addictive, compelling, very, very hard to resist, and I am a Cyber Behavioural Scientist – what about our kids?” 

She goes on to highlight how every part of this platform has been designed to make it as addictive as possible, from the moment you join to the moment you start flicking through the videos. It is easy to see why children are spending around 75 minutes a day on the platform and why the average user takes a hit around eight times a day.”

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