• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

How unemployment fuels cybercrime in Nigeria

Why Nigeria’s unemployment data is delayed for 2 years – NBS

In the wake of escalating youth unemployment, a disconcerting trend is surfacing— a surge in cybercrime and a resurgence of voodoo practices.

This unsettling correlation between economic distress and unconventional criminal activities underscores the pressing challenges faced by the younger generation.

Read also: Half of Nigerians are poor despite low unemployment-World Bank

Banking malware attacks rise by 8% in 2023 in Nigeria – Kaspersky

Kaspersky’s recent statement sheds light on the cyber threat landscape in Africa, noting Nigeria’s concerning trend of an 8% increase in banking malware attacks in 2023.

You do not need to travel far across Nigeria to see a generation of young people lost in the world of cybercrime and ostensibly inspired by the likes of Hushpuppi.

You will find them in many Nigerian cities like Lagos, Benin and Owerri, and even up to Accra, Johannesburg, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. It is from these remote locations that young opportunists try to launch phishing and ransomware attacks, including malicious spams, all over the world. Often when they try to escape criminal justice, they easily stand out with their characteristic way of dressing and brazen lifestyle.

Some of these cyber criminals did not complete their education while others are high school graduates or even students. Many address themselves as ‘yahoo boys’ – a known term in Nigeria for cyber criminals, suggesting that they are unashamed of their practices. Those in Accra describe their enterprise as a ‘pressing computer’.

Osahon (not their real name) explained to BusinessDay how many young people go the extra mile to employ the services of spiritualists, apparently to control their victims telepathically to yield to their deceitful demands.

“One thing about computers and the internet is that they are addictive. It is easier for a child to be glued to the computer without thinking of doing something else.

“For some of the Nigerian youths, the computer has become a tool of exploitation, a means through which they make a living by fraud, swindling the unsuspecting victims of their hard-earned money.

“Today, they are known as the ‘Yahoo boys’, but before the advent of technology, financial fraud had been in existence. Popularly known as 419-ners, these fraudsters specialised in using fax machines to defraud unsuspected foreigners and their fellow Nigerians.

“In the early 90’s, some of these people were the big men and women in society, they commanded respect because of the enormous wealth at their disposal.

“But they later met their Waterloo, when some of them were arrested by the anti-graft agencies, tried, and convicted. They lost some of their assets to the government, and have since been struggling for survival,” Osahon said.

In recent times, and with the coming of digital technology, Nigerian youths, especially undergraduates, have taken to the illicit trade now known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo’.

Investigations by BusinessDay revealed that the Yahoo business is responsible for the drastic reduction in cultism in higher institutions, as it has been overshadowed by widespread cyber fraud.

Beginners in this craft, also known as ‘Yahoo boys,’ often use Yahoo’s free email account to perpetrate the crime. Online fraud became more prevalent in Nigeria in the 2000s with access to the Internet. Youths, who engaged in the scam became rich overnight, making the illicit job attractive to more people.

These youngsters lavish their ill-gotten wealth on ephemeral things like expensive cars, houses, mobile devices and jewellery. They are seen in expensive hotels, clubs, eateries, lounges in the high browser areas of major city and what have you.

‘’The irony of it all is that they are highly respected even among security agencies. Worse of all is that some security agencies work as bodyguards to these fraudsters,’’ a source disclosed.

Findings by BusinessDay also revealed that thousands of undergraduates dabble in internet fraud. ‘’A rich Yahoo boy is a role model for the youth, they fancy his lifestyle and want to be like him.

The only thing they think about is how to make easy and quick money,’’ a source who wants his identity hidden, told our correspondent.

The trend, however, is taking an ugly twist with mothers encouraging their children to learn the trade, with the promise of giving them the necessary spiritual fortification when they are done with learning, all in the quest of making quick money to live larger than life in the society.

Ololade, who resides in the Alimosho local government area, a suburb of Lagos State, admires the flamboyant lifestyle of these internet fraudsters so much that she encouraged her 16-year-old son, Bode, to learn the rudiments of the.

Bode had been undergoing basic training, looking for clients to swindle and also looking for dating mates online that would fall prey to his antics

“Yes, he has started learning and I am waiting for him to get to like 18 years old, then I would go and bathe him (spiritual fortification) so that he will be making money,” Ololade boasted.

Well, what can one probably expect from a mother who is addicted to gambling and Betting and who believes gambling can go a long way in settling family problems? Ololade believes that Yahoo is an approved way of making ends meet.

A 31-year-old internet fraudster, Finidi Ade (not real name), who resides in the high browser area of Lekki Phase1 boasted to our correspondent, how he rose from a net worth of N2m to N200m in less than 5 years. Ever since he mastered the art of hacking business emails (known as wire-wire), he said his life has never remained the same.

Okwudire a secondary school graduate, told our correspondent that he did not make much money from the dating platform, adding that he had to pay N2m to a senior colleague in the business to learn the art of wire-wire, which he claimed changed his fortune.

He disclosed that he does not have any plan to quit the business which had brought him fortune anytime soon. Okwudire had been involved in this fraudulent business for over 8 years.

He said, “During my internship, I lodged in a hotel for nearly a month with my mentor. All expenses, meals, transport, and more were paid by me just for learning the business. However, the mentorship didn’t go as planned as my senior colleague lacked transparency. He always concealed his laptop when attempts were made to observe and learn.’’

Frustrated, Ade terminated the arrangement after one month but managed to glean some knowledge that he later applied.

It is worth noting that internet fraud has evolved to a point where cybercriminals in Nigeria are resorting to different forms of rituals to enhance their illegal gains.

In a bid to confirm that these fraudsters go the extra -mile to make it in their chosen line of business,

A cyber security analyst, in a recent interview with BusinessDay, warned about the escalating threat landscape posed by cybercriminals.

insights shed light on the pervasive success of social engineering techniques, underscoring their role as the linchpin in contemporary fraud and hacking endeavours.

He exposed the multifaceted nature of fraudulent activities, categorising them into both local and international domains.

He drew attention to the local fraud activities, where credit card fraud takes centre stage, leveraging sophisticated social engineering communication techniques like smishing, phishing, SPIM, and vishing.

He also pointed out how these criminals adeptly masquerade as trusted entities, instilling panic among their targets about potential threats to their bank accounts.

“The ultimate goal is to coerce individuals into divulging sensitive information, such as credit card details, allowing the fraudsters to swiftly empty victims’ accounts before they realise the deception,” he said.

“The lack of advanced technology support hampers efforts to effectively track and prosecute these fraudsters,” he said.

Describing a typical smishing attack, he paints a scenario where attackers craft text messages seemingly from legitimate sources like banks, government agencies, or well-known companies.

The messages, often laced with a sense of urgency, compel recipients to take immediate action, whether it’s clicking on a malicious link, calling a fake customer support number, or replying with sensitive information.

He emphasised that the overarching goal of smishing attacks is to exploit the trust people place in text messages, manipulating them into providing information that can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities.

The attackers deploy various tactics to make their messages appear genuine, from using official logos to mirroring the language and formatting typical of legitimate organisations.

He said: “This often occurs through electronic communication channels such as emails, instant messages, or fraudulent websites. The fraudsters initiate contact with their targets, compelling them to click on seemingly innocuous links, which serve as tools to clandestinely harvest sensitive information from unsuspecting victims.”

He concluded by stressing the alarming reality that victims, in many cases, unwittingly provide access to their personal and financial details, ultimately exploited by fraudsters for illicit gains.

“The prevalence of such phishing tactics underscores the urgent need for heightened cyber-security awareness to shield individuals from falling prey to these increasingly sophisticated and malicious schemes.”

She emphasised that cybercriminals, commonly referred to as fraudsters, scammers, or colloquially as “Yahoo boys,” strategically exploit vulnerabilities in both systems and human psychology to deceive and defraud unsuspecting individuals.

“The use of various tactics, including phishing and identity theft, underscores the evolving nature of these cyber threats,”

Additionally, malware attacks directly target systems, leveraging malicious software to infiltrate, gain unauthorised access, steal data, or disrupt operations.

Describing his method, he said, “To impersonate a celebrity, you download their images and videos online, create a Facebook profile, and initiate a business. Despite its popularity, this approach continues to yield significant returns for some, requiring commitment and consistency.”

He continued, “Many Yahoo Boys own iPhones, which are often obtained from their clients. Targets sometimes find it easier to send devices than money. Additionally, we sometimes use cash to buy these devices after a successful cash-out.”

Despite the new tactics deployed by these fraudsters, the need for relevant agencies saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring cyber security to up their ante cannot be overemphasised.

Caution against unsolicited communication requesting personal information, adoption of complex and unique passwords with two-factor authentication, and avoidance of public Wi-Fi for sensitive activities were underscored as essential protective measures.

An expert urged individuals to remain vigilant against potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

“Recommendations include maintaining awareness of cyber threats, avoiding weak passwords, and implementing robust password management practices.”

Highlighting the pivotal role of proactive cyber security measures, stressed the importance of regularly updating systems and software to address known security flaws.

“There is a need to verify the identity of individuals or entities seeking sensitive information, especially in unexpected situations. The installation of reputable anti-malware software, along with its timely updates, was deemed crucial to detecting and removing potential threats,” he said.

He emphasised the essence of awareness, vigilance, and proactive cybersecurity measures as essential elements in safeguarding against the escalating threat of cyber fraud.

He urged the public to stay informed, implement robust security practices, and diligently protect personal and financial information in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Meanwhile, the former Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami had once admitted that cybercrime is growing at an alarming rate globally.

“In 2018, the cybercrime industry generated about $1.5tn while social media-related crimes generated a minimum of $3.25bn. Bitcoin crimes generated $76bn in 2018.

“Many people develop expertise and embark on compromising systems, exploiting any opportunity they get and they are making money. Cybercrime is growing at the speed of light. Given this, as part of our agenda of promoting security, we are giving priority to cyber security,” he said.