African citizens and businesses prefer to take their chances falling victim to cyber crime (criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the Internet) and its numerous negative consequences than share information with their governments.
This was the conclusion reached by analysts and government officials speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali last week which led to the warning that many more African countries may become major victims of cyber crime in the coming years.
For countries where government is increasingly repressive or autocratic, the citizens fear that government officials may be spying on them and therefore trust them less. Jean-Luc Vez, the head of public security policy and security affairs at the World Economic Forum put it this way;
“There is a huge lack of information sharing due to absence of trust between the private and public sector which is affecting the fight against cyber crimes…some countries go on scrutinizing and spying on their citizens which makes it hard for the private sector to share information”
He added that for this reason, it becomes difficult for people to draw a distinction between the needs of national security and combating cyber crimes. They proposed a way of combating this challenge which would have Interpol collaborating with governments to come up with recommendations and guidelines, some of which will directly consider ways to enhance information sharing globally.
The necessity of this move and the reason why it constitutes an important agenda in a World Economic Forum gathering is that cyber crime costs the global economy about $445 billion a year.
In Africa, South Africa faces the brunt of the problem. According to McAfee securit company, in 2014 alone, about 70% of South Africans fell victims to some form of cybercrime in 2014, compared to the 50% global average, costing the country’s companies more than $500m.
Ivory Coast’s information technology and communications minister, Bruno Nabagné Koné also said that the country has suffered the negative effects of cyber crime; “The image of Ivory coast has heavily suffered at the hands of cyber criminals” adding, “Trust has been very minimal in Africa, it is a big challenge if we are to address cyber crime”.
The lack of trust between telecoms companies, consumers and app makers of communications tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook also makes for a safer environment for cyber criminals. An easy instance would be WhatsApp which started encrypting all messages last month so even its engineers wouldn’t be able to read those messages even if ordered to do so by a court.
Noboru Nakatani, Interpol’s executive director of innovation said to that end that; “We are trying to get support from telecom companies and other partners in a multi-stakeholder approach; the internet is much more unsafe than everyone thinks”. It will have to be a collaboration with public, private sectors and academia and only in that way will interpol’s efforts to combat cyber crime succeed.