The spread of information technology on the African continent is opening up new avenues for economic and social development, but it is also creating new opportunities for criminal groups, taking advantage of these new tools for a wide range of offenses.
A type of cyber crime practiced in Africa but also known in the West (and still practiced apparently, judging by email accounts) is the so-called ‘Nigerian scam’. It is so named because the first wave of emails came from Nigeria.
An email arrives to the victim from alleged relatives of heads of state or prominent African personalities (one directly from the then head of the Central Bank of Nigeria) asking him to send a small amount of money, which should serve to release a sum of enormous proportions blocked in a bank. Some of the money released would then end up in the pockets of the email recipient. But this scam is only one of several types of crime, alongside the theft of passwords, bank details and credit cards (phishing), illegal interception, sabotage, and so on.
Emblematic in this respect is the case of South Africa. As reported by the site TimesLive on 3 November last year, South Africa is now the third nation in the world in number of cyber crimes, after Russia and China. In the month of October 2015, cyber criminals launched 6,000 attacks against companies, ISPs (Internet Service Provider) and vital infrastructures of the country. In particular, the pirates attempted to block all Internet Service Providers in the country. According to the authorities, in reality only 2,000 of these attacks constituted a serious threat. 50% of all cases consist of phishing attempts.
Despite the fact that the Pretoria government has created a structure that specializes in combating such crimes, experts (like Professor Basie von Solms, director of the Center of the University of Johannesburg for information security) doubt the ability of institutions to counter a cyber attack on a large scale. Suffice to say that the new structure against hacking was run by only five computer analysts. On 17 November 2015, the BBC reported that due to computer crimes, businesses in Kenya lost $US146 million annually.
For the Ghanaian computer expert Bright Mawdudor, these crimes proliferate in Africa primarily for cultural reasons, and essentially because of a lack of attention to safety issues. Government agencies, businesses (including banks) and African ISPs give priority to quick access to Internet and the supply of new online services at the expense of safely securing their sites. These are usually data managed by companies that need to provide a product in a short time and that in terms of safety profile end up being inadequate. Often then to construct these sites, ready-made models (templates) found on the Internet are used, then adapted to the wishes of the customer to save time and money. Hackers then have an easy path and succeed in penetrating into the databases of these subjects, extracting sensitive information, perhaps in order to sell them.
At least to make life difficult for criminals, security should be a priority, even at the design stage of a website, which should be built from scratch, without using readily available components. Without a change of mentality, therefore, the spread of information technology on the African continent will result in an increase of lawlessness.
To deal with these so-called cyber mafias, governments and law enforcement agencies of various countries have tried in recent years to adopt innovative technological tools and overall coordination (more difficult to pursue, while the mafia groups acting in agreement with each other, conduct their trafficking regardless of nationality, both in the traditional geographic space as well as in the new dimension of cyberspace). (A.C.)