Cyber felons in Africa ambuscade social media sites like sharks

July 26, 2014

With a growing number of Internet users in Africa spending much of their online time on social media sites, scammers and cyber felons are catching on by directing their attacks at user accounts. Instances of malware, phishing and spam sent to these accounts rose significantly in 2013, according to an online survey conducted last month by an IT security firm.The survey, which charted 5, 100 social networking users in ten African countries, found that 60 percent of respondents had been sent malware, such as worms, through these sites a 30 percent increase compared to 2012.In another finding, a third of respondents said they had received spam through their social networking sites, triple the figure from three years earlier, while 49 percent had been on the receiving end of phishing attacks up twofold since 2011. Rogue applications, clickjacking, survey scams all unheard of by majority of Internet users in Africa, are now popping up on a daily basis on social and messaging networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Viber and Whatsapp. “Why aren’t Twitter and other social networks doing more to prevent spam and scams in the first place? People need to be careful they don’t end up being conned for their personal details, or get tricked into clicking on links that could earn money for cyber crooks or infect innocent computers,” the report said.

The report added that fewer employers were imposing bans on their workers accessing social networking sites since many companies now recognised that these sites can help deliver their social media marketing campaigns. “If your business isn’t on social media in African countries, but your competitors are, you are going to be at a disadvantage,” study claims. But businesses have to be aware of the risks and secure themselves while they’re online. Threats may not be so grave in African countries compared to Europe and North America, even though it has one of highest number of social media users in the world.Reported attacks in Africa mostly target those who access the Internet through a computers and although it’s becoming common to hear cases of mobile phone attacks.The majority of social networks users in Africa access social media sites through their mobile phones, so the threats from phishing, malware and spams are less menacing since the main targets are the users of personal computers.The biggest threats to desktop computer users comes from fraud e-mails or viruses that spread through the use of flash drives or external drives. Roughly 200 million people of the continent’s population of 1 billion, use the Internet.

That figure is expected to rise significantly over the next three years as more and more people acquire smartphones that costs less than $120 in Africa especially the Chinese brands. As an active Twitter user and few other social media platforms, I believe that preventing social network security threats should start with the users themselves from disclosing too much personal information online and from approving unknown people as friends.In the month of June I rejected more than 200 requests for Instagram followers as I didn’t know either of the requesters.The main threat to social media users does not come from having personal data stolen but rather lack of web etiquette in what is shared online. Social network users needed to have a better understanding of what constitute private data before deciding what one is willing to share online.Many Internet users in Africa still do not even know how to optimise their privacy settings on sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to mention but a few to ensure better protection according to a separate research released last year. There’s still little awareness on how to use the Internet safely, and several organisations are campaigning on this issue but are falling behind because the growing number of users is just overwhelming across Africa as a whole. A South African Cyber crime expert I spoke to few months back told me that cybercrime in Africa is evolving from impish virus-writing, to financially inspired organised criminal activity which is the primary threat in Africa.

Contador Harrison