Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems are now as basic to our lives as water and electricity. Many individuals, corporate organisations and government agencies depend on ICT and computer networks to perform simple as well as complex tasks – from social networking and research to business and commerce. However, the cyberspace is vulnerable while many businesses, agencies and individuals are being increasingly threatened by cyber criminals not only within the country but around the world.
So endemic is the problem that the Senate recently said Nigeria has lost about $450 million to 3,500 cyber attacks on its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) space, representing about 70 per cent of hacking attempts in the country. In asking its committee on ICT and cybercrime to convoke a national stakeholders’ conference on the malaise, the Senate advocated a broad-based approach to tackling what has become a national security threat.
Cybercrimes, as most people are already aware, refer to those criminal acts such as identity theft and bank frauds facilitated through the use of the internet. But as most Nigerians also know, to our collective shame, our country is often cited as a breeding ground for most of these nefarious practices because of the activities of some of our citizens. In the last few years, many criminal elements in Nigeria have been using these modern telecommunication networks such as the internet and mobile phones to commit all manner of crimes that give us a bad image globally.
Indeed, there is an upsurge of cybercrime in Nigeria. The country is ranked third in global Internet crime after the United States of America and United Kingdom while 7.5 per cent of the world’s hackers are said to be Nigerians. Committed mostly by the young, often called “Yahoo” boys, a precursor of the infamous ‘419’ email scammers, the fraudsters are increasingly taking advantage of the rise in online transactions, electronic shopping, e-commerce and the electronic messaging systems to engage in all manner of crimes.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported last year that 70 per cent of attempted or successful fraud/forgery cases in the Nigerian banking system were perpetrated via the electronic channels. Between 2000 and 2013, banks in the country lost N159 billion to electronic frauds and cybercrime. In 2014, bank customers lost about N6 billion in Nigeria while in South Africa, the loss amounted to about N8 billion. In addition, the damage to business from the theft of intellectual property is exceedingly high.
In 2015, the Cybercrimes Act was passed into law to address the challenges. The law criminalises a variety of offences – from ATM card skimming and identity theft to possession of child pornography. It imposes, for instance, seven years imprisonment for offenders of all kinds and additional seven years for online crimes that result in physical harm, and life imprisonment for those that lead to death. But like almost every law in the country, there is the problem of enforcement. The “yahoo boys” still daily throng cybercafé premises to “transact” their business with the owners looking away. Yet the law criminalises internet café owners who knowingly allow their premises to be used to commit crimes.
In response to the apparent failure of the law to address the growing challenge, the Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, is canvassing the need to improve the capacity of relevant ICT and cyberspace stakeholders for the training and support of cyber security officials and the sharing of cyber security best practices from across the globe. These are in addition to building the capacity of local law enforcement.
According to the minister, an effective response to cybercrimes “requires a robust network security including appropriate network architecture and software, use of encryption, data protection legislation, information security standards and other tools of threat protection and detection.”
The time to do that is now.