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Africa cannot be the weak link in the security value-chain

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, chair, African Union Cyber Security Expert Group.
Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, chair, African Union Cyber Security Expert Group.

Amid accelerated digitalisation, remote working and rapid deployment of digital technology, Africa is grappling with several challenges – including an increased cyber threat surface.

These challenges continue to hinder the continent’s ability to regulate and effectively price data usage, leverage telecommunications infrastructure and meet cyber security requirements. It is also hampering Africa’s effort to secure a slice of the cyber security solutions market pie, which is purportedly valued at US$4.5-billion.

This served as the basis of a keynote by Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, chair of the African Union Cyber Security Expert Group, delivered at the ITWeb Security Summit 2021.

Ajijola listed the growing need for user awareness as one of the challenges. This includes passwords, remote end points, cyber hygiene updates, and user behaviour regarding opening suspicious files or links.

“This is really the foundation of cyber defence, arguably can be considered as one of the components of contemporary national security. Addressing cyber multi-threats requires a global multi-stakeholder collaboration... No one country, no one organisation, no one person can do it alone. Part of our concern is that we in Africa shouldn’t be the weak link, because once you have a weak link, it undermines the global value chain.”

Addressing cyber multi-threats requires a global multi-stakeholder collaboration... No one country, no one organisation, no one person can do it alone.

Ajijola said cyber security is a risk management proposition and thus, arguably, an economic proposition that can be quite complex because it covers a wide spectrum of activities – digital economy, justice and legal, telecommunications, risk and resilience, geo-economics, international security, etc.

He said protecting the digital Africa as digital urbanisation takes root presents many challenges, such as authentication and privilege attacks that involve viewing other people’s data and personal information.

“But of course we have a lot of data that is on our Web databases and things like that. Then we also have the networks. One of the areas of concern for some of us are actually some of the satellite infrastructure that is not Africa based, but does actually significantly impact us. Then we also have the issues revolving around the physical systems themselves, so your insecure network end points, your customers...”

Social engineering

Ajojolo also highlighted the issue of social engineering and elections.

“Election interference undermines democracy. So for example, it’s not simply about attacking the technical systems of the election commission, but it’s actually about the capacity now to socially engineer and hack the mind of the electorate.”

This links to other socio-economic headaches like fake news, disinformation and hate speech, as well as the use of social media by terrorist groups for propaganda and to influence policy development.

Cryptocurrency and Fintech regulation continue to represent challenges for governments, said Ajijolo. He believes there is merit in establishing a single, central African digital currency.

Commenting on companies like Elon Musk’s StarLink that pursue their commercial objective based on more widespread broadband connectivity across the continent, Ajijolo said the democratisation of data and ubiquitous connectivity are good, but these companies are answerable to their shareholders and global regulators, they are not answerable to Africa regulators. They are able to charge a vastly reduced price for data and although that is actually good for the consumer, it does upset the balance of local telecommunications markets, he added.

Last but not least, he said data theft from smartphone users is a serious problem.

There is a need to raise cyber security awareness on the continent and for leaders to proactively address these challenges, concluded Ajijolo.

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