How Nigeria can address rising cyber threats to drive digital economy

The future of Nigeria’s economy lies in its plan to digitize every facet of governance and reduce the use of cash by at least 80 percent. But authorities and private sector stakeholders are concerned that the rate of cybercrimes which has risen in recent times will undermine the efforts to digitise the economy.

A new piece of malware is released every day within 4.2 seconds, says Vali Ali, Chief Technologist – Security. One of the problems that Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) face is how to combat the sheer volume of malware attacking organisations’ software.

At the 2021 Cyber Security Conference by the American Business Council (ABC) which took place on Wednesday, 25 August 2021, Ali Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy cited an Accenture report which found that damages from cyber-attacks are not just increasing, they are projected to cost the loss of approximately $5.2 trillion across the globe by 2023.

The $5.2 trillion represents 35 percent of the GDP of China, 137 percent of Germany’s GDP, or over 173 percent of the GDP of the entire African continent. The loss is expected to reach $10.5 trillion in 2025 and will make cyber crimes the third-largest economy, after the United States and China.

A Kaspersky research in 2020 found that at least 10 percent of computers experienced at least one malware attack. In some parts of Africa, countries like Liberia, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco have seen a slightly higher rate, while other parts show a lower rate – a 5 percent or 6 percent average. For the first quarter of 2021, the figures are only slightly lower than 10 percent, both in relative and absolute terms.

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“Tackling cybersecurity is no longer a suggestion, it is a mandate for this government. It is everyone’s business,” said Pantami.

The minister says a creative approach is what is needed to tackle the threats. This is in view of the new forms that cybercrimes are taking, with state actors getting increasingly involved and increasing the volatility in the space.

Experts also say there is a need to deepen collaboration between the Nigerian government and other countries as well as with the private sector. This is one of the approaches that Ghana has adopted according to Albert Antwi-Boasiako, National Cyber Security Advisor, Ghana who was represented at the event.

Merrit Baer, Principal, AWS Office of the CISO Amazon Web Service, said the company has been working with governments and organisations in other to elevate the discussion on cybersecurity by helping public officials understand the environment.

The need to give more attention also comes from the increase in the consumption of data. The COVID-19 has raised the level of digital adoption across all sectors of the economy. In financial services, new players are leveraging data analytics to fill gaps left by big banks and in so doing attracting foreign investments.

Temitope Aladenusi, Risk Advisory Leader, Deloitte West Africa, notes that the growth in data consumption exposes organisations to cyber criminality hence the need to take cybersecurity seriously. Localisation of data, for him, is very important.

The Nigerian government is already creating data localisation laws, but Aladenusi says the lawmakers should also be flexible so as not to put the country in tight spots where it is unable to do business with other countries because its laws forbid data sharing.

Bala Fakande, Deputy Director of Communications at the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) assures that the proposed data protection law is crafted in such a way that it considers issues that may arise in the future.

There was a 5-day hackathon that preceded the conference focused on identifying innovative Nigerians with solutions to our indigenous cyber security challenges. The Minister presented the Awards to the top three winners that participated.

The hackathon attracted about 150 applications and covered important areas like cryptography, steganography, reverse engineering, programming, and exploitation, among others.

Other participants at the conference include Dipo Faulkner, the President of ABC and Chief Executive Officer of IBM West Africa, and Margaret Olele, Chief Executive Officer/Executive Secretary of ABC.