Understanding of cybercrime in Africa

February 24, 2015

Online criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, targeted, and serious and the name of the game is the ‘survival of the fittest’ and that helps explain how cybercriminals in World’s most poorest region have evolved over time. Cybercriminals in Nairobi, Lagos or Johannesburg are very innovative, and are constantly on the lookout for new markets, technologies and opportunities for exploitation according to Think Tank research concluded late last year. A financially motivated cybercriminal in Lagos is unlikely to care who the target is in Cape Town, as long as it is easy money and the risk of getting caught is low or at least significantly lower than physically robbing the bank or holding up an armored truck in Nigeria’s commercial capital. Those most at risk include complacent individuals who do not understand the danger of cybercrime and often assume that cybercriminals will not target ordinary people.Many of African population have no idea of the value of collective identities to criminals, which can be sold to the highest bidder. Individual users need to be even more vigilant online, as those who do not take proactive steps to protect themselves often fall prey to cyber attacks from some of the less sophisticated criminals and have their personal information stolen.

Aside from direct consequences to the victims involved, cybercrime in Africa also has a range of short and long-term impacts, which can cause significant financial risks to businesses and national security threats.National Police services across Africa have established a cyber crime divisions but they are ineffectual because electronic-crime laws were passed and prosecutors and judges were trained in gathering and interpreting evidence against cyber criminals but there are few lawyers who specialize in electronic crime in Africa.Kenya completed a bill on cyber crime and one on electronic information and transactions and made digital evidence admissible in court just like is the case in Tanzania. Presently, Police could only pressure many suspected cyber fraudsters to sign a statement pledging to stop committing such crimes.In some cases, police have even recruited some of the perpetrators as their expert counsels to help curb cyber crime.Police in most African countries can now use laws on intellectual property rights, broadcasting and money laundering, depending on the cases.However, some countries are eager for the new specialized laws to be passed. As yet, cyber operatives had only worked with other departments, including the narcotics and the finance division, instead of investigating on their own.

In Uganda, Cyber crime took the spotlight recently when it announced it was hunting those behind pornographic pictures of a well-known Bukkedde TV host same as it happened with hugely talented Ugandan singer Desire Luzinda which were distributed over the Internet last year by her former Nigerian lover.The Ugandan government said if caught, the perpetrators would be charged under Criminal Code on defamation and distributing pornographic materials.The Ugandan police rarely received reports from cyber crime victims but there has been significant improvement.To amend this situation, Police services across the continent should construct websites or mobile portals that would enable the victims to file reports through the Internet about digital theft, mostly of companies’ market data, which is on the rise in the continent. No single entity ‘owns’ the issue of cyber security and governments cannot work alone when it comes to securing the online environment. There will never be enough policing resources to investigate all cybercriminal activities, and the role of public policing agencies is only one, albeit important, part of the overall response to cybercrime.

Victims of cybercrime sometimes feel a sense of helplessness, as the mechanisms for reporting cybercrime have not kept pace with the use of ICT.There is need to have a working relationship between the public and private sectors to deal with online crime and let the community and businesses report cyber attacks with ease and find responses to new online threats such as identity theft, content crime, and online sexual abuse and exploitation. To add to the problems of fraud-supported terrorist activities, the existence of “underground economy” has made obtaining illegal funds easier. Just as with the real economy, the underground economy is made primarily of buyers, sellers and markets. According to a study on the underground economy, credit card information is the most requested “product” in underground economy in Africa followed by mobile money financial accounts, spam and phishing information, withdrawal services, identity theft information, server accounts, compromised computers, website accounts, malicious applications and retail accounts in that order.They are commonly used by criminals to steal money from the real economy, such as by using stolen mobile money account passwords to make unauthorized transfers to the offender.

Organized criminals may then use the proceeds to finance other offenses such as terrorist attacks.Electronic transactions such as purchase through the Internet using stolen credit card numbers or cards are common in South Africa and Angola, electronic money laundering, stock market transactions, electronic tax transactions and banking transactions are common in Nigeria, Communication and information technology related crimes like Telephone tapping, Voice over Internet Protocol abuse and fraud using Short Messaging Services through cell phones are a thriving business in Kenya while crimes using the Internet like Gambling, terrorism, card fraud, sex crimes including soliciting for prostitution, narcotics transactions, smuggling, electronic attacks on infrastructure, blackmail, threats, data theft, defamation are growing across the sub saharan Africa.Computer-related crimes like Illegal trespassing into a system, hacking, cracking, attacking an operating system, making and distributing damaging programs or viruses as well violation of the intellectual property rights are common as well.

Contador Harrison