African economic leaders must change their mindset and approach – Jeune Afrique

Major companies on the continent still consider cybersecurity to be a technical discipline reserved for insiders. However, with the explosion of cybercrime driven by the accelerating digital transformation, all sectors of the economy are now at great risk, requiring a massive response.

Over the past two decades, the adoption of digital technologies in Africa has increased dramatically. Internet penetration, which was less than 1% of the population in the 2000s according to the World Bank, has now reached 43.2% (Internet World Stats, 2021), including 25% of users connecting every day. This growth continues to accelerate as more than 9 million people accessed the Internet for the first time between October 2018 and April 2019.

This evolution has also been accompanied by the development of online platforms (a phenomenon known as the “platformization of the economy”) with the growing importance of digital data. Today, many parts of the African economy depend on these technologies for optimal development. Large companies use remote work themselves, and they have supply chains and internal network infrastructure that come with many risks.

Costly disadvantages

This revolution requires a level of cybersecurity maturity to match the threats it poses. Unfortunately, security standards are not yet widely adopted in Africa: 90% of African companies do not have sufficient cybersecurity protocols, according to Interpol’s Africa Cyber ​​Threat Assessment 2021. However, in the specific case of critical organizations and infrastructures, a cybersecurity incident can cause serious damage, sometimes irreversible.

Cybercrime cost the Kenyan economy $36 million in 2016.

The lack of concrete measures also has financial consequences. In 2016, cybercrime cost the Kenyan economy $36 million (€32.5 million), the South African economy $573 million and the Nigerian economy $500 million. Therefore, the creation of a secure ecosystem in the era of digitization of a strategically important and sensitive world is a priority for African states.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, causing a surge in cybercrime-related activity. Last July, a cyberattack targeting South Africa resulted in the closure of four of its main ports while the economy is still struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic. A glimpse of what we may face in the future…

Cyber ​​attacks spare no one, and their perpetrators make no distinction by size, sector, or geographic location. In large companies, cybercriminals target the most vulnerable services and willingly use a vulnerability in one of the branches to take control of the entire network. As a result, it is critical now to adopt a “holistic” vision of cybersecurity and work online.

Decompartmentalization and collaboration

Within companies, specialized committees should be formed, bringing together all departments, to discuss cybersecurity issues specific to the organization. And this is in a confidential setting, under the direction of a person who is considered to be sufficiently qualified. This is already happening on many corporate boards in Europe as well as in the United States, and the positive impact on the relationship between corporate boards and chief information security officers is palpable. So much so that, according to research firm Gartner, by 2025, 40% of boards of directors in these regions will have a dedicated cybersecurity committee chaired by a qualified board member, compared to less than 10% today.

By mobilizing professional collective intelligence, we will be able to cover a large area of ​​vulnerability

First of all, it is critical to achieve cybersecurity sharing by strengthening not only cooperation between core activities, but also the exchange of information across areas of expertise and geographic regions. Thus, it is important that experts developing in different geographic contexts and studying topics related to finance, postal, telecommunications or infrastructure can meet and share their sector’s problems and solutions regarding cybercrime. By mobilizing professional collective intelligence and comparing situations and points of view, we will be able to cover a large area of ​​vulnerability.

Thus, the existence of multi-sectoral initiatives led by large companies and governments is important in order to promote thinking on these issues while structuring the African economic ecosystem around information security issues. This is one of the directions of Cyber ​​Africa Forum 2022, which will be held from May 9 to 10 in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and organized by Ciberobs – Make Africa Safe and Jeune Afrique Media Group.

More than 300 key public and private actors and decision makers in the field of cybersecurity and digital trust in Africa, including the heads of Huawei, Ecobank and Orange, will be present to discuss issues related to “digital sovereignty and data protection”, as well as all major digital challenges facing Africa today and tomorrow. With one goal: to promote the development of robust cybersecurity at the service of sustainable innovation.

“Digitalization without protection is dangerous,” Roger Adom, the Ivorian Minister for the Digital Economy, is fond of saying. But to protect, we need to speak, think and act – together. This is how we will be able to counter the threat of cybercriminals who do not hesitate to cooperate and join forces to achieve their goals.

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