How rising cyberattacks threaten Africa’s financial inclusion

Experts have argued that stakeholders in the digital technology sector should focus and develop strategies on growing cyber security threats that could hinder financial inclusion in Africa.

This statement was made at the virtual financial inclusion media roundtable hosted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) programme.

The discussion comes at a time when Africa recorded the highest volume of cyberattacks in 2021, a research from CheckPoint, a cybersecurity solution provider shows.

“As we are moving to include more people into the financial inclusion net, we should be mindful of the things that can hinder the successes of it such as cyber security attacks,” Assane Gueye, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University Africa said.

Gueye further said that while we are developing the technologies to include more people, it should be more secure or preserve peoples’ data and privacy and also align with people’s reality.

“We should be more intentional that these technologies will bring more good and not harm.”

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Similarly Rachel Toku-Appiah, a programme advocacy and communications director for Africa at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation noted that we cannot assume that technology alone cannot ensure that consumers are protected from data misuse and insecurity.

“We need to build strong systems that integrate strong policies, best practises and ethical principles. Our continued work across the continent reflects the foundation’s commitment in Africa which is to drive safe and scalable financial inclusion and uplift the lives of millions,” Toku-Appiah said.

Cybersecurity threats are malicious acts that damage, steal data, or disrupt digital life in general. Attackers target large and small institutions, rich and poor countries, and operate without borders.

And Africa, the most populated black continent in the World suffers the most from these attacks.

Research from CheckPoint indicates that Africa experienced the highest volume of attacks in 2021, with an average of 1,582 weekly attacks per organization. This represents a 13 percent increase from 2020.

“This was followed by Asia Specific, which has an average of 1,353 weekly attacks per organization (25 percent increase); Latin America, with 1,118 attacks weekly (38 percent increase); Europe, with 670 attacks weekly (68 percent increase); and North America, with an average of 503 weekly attacks per organization (61 percent increase),” the report stated.

A recent document titled ‘Financial Inclusion and Cybersecurity in the Digital Age’ by Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director at International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that as we are becoming more reliant on digital financial services, the number of cyber attacks is growing.

“COVID-19 accelerates our digital advancements, and opportunities are multiplying at an even faster pace. But so are the risks. And if we want to harness the great power of technology to lift people up, we need to deal effectively with the threats that can bring technology down and harm lives and livelihoods,” Georgieva said.

She adds, “These cyberthreats can have a grave impact on financial stability and can also deny people the benefits of financial inclusion.”

The IMF director advised that in this digital world, efforts to expand financial inclusion and strengthen cybersecurity must go hand in hand. “We need to build a safe, secure, and robust system that supports digital financial inclusion.”

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