Africa’s War to Secure the Internet

Globally, more than 782 million new internet users have been registered in just two years since 2019, prompting heightened cybercrime scrutiny. A 2020 UN report noted that cybercrime is on the rise, with 7,000 data breaches recorded in 2019 alone, exposing over 15 billion records. The cost of these violations is projected to exceed $5 trillion by 2024. This undesirable projection is one that experts warn Africa, like the rest of the world, must objectively examine and try to keep an eye on. advance.

This week, as the world celebrated Safer Internet Day, there was no avoiding the statistical realities of Africa’s internet penetration, which currently stands at 22%. Although significantly lagging behind the rest of the world, 22% of Africa’s 1.4 billion people represent a considerable number of people whose daily lives include; financial transactions, purchases, travel using cards, contact with friends, family and associates, work, entertainment, among a multitude of other activities, are shaped by the Internet.

While all of these activities involve sharing data, it also means – according to one UN Chronicle article – that our personal information is increasingly exposed to attack and abuse. The level of attack to which we are subject, unfortunately, is sometimes institutional in structure. Brad Smith, president and general counsel of Microsoft in 2017, openly denounced this situation during the 10th edition of the series of conferences in Geneva.

“A cyber arms race is underway with nations developing and releasing a new generation of weapons for governments and civilians,” Smith said. According to him, this puts at risk the critical data and digital infrastructure that we all depend on for our daily lives.

Smith also maintains, and agrees with many of us in the ICT leadership, including the African Telecommunications Union, that the future of Internet cybersecurity will require many steps by many people. Strengthening the levels of cooperation between the different players in this ecosystem, without neglecting the contribution of individuals, is our best chance to move forward.

Large-scale cooperation is at the heart of the ATU and many other institutions across Africa, with a keen interest in cybersecurity. In fact, in 2007, when the International Telecommunication Union launched the ITU Global Cybersecurity Program, designed for cooperation and efficiency, encouraging collaboration with and among all relevant partners, the ATU became and continues to be an implementing partner encompassing programs such as Child Online Protection.

Although statistically, the virtual world of the Internet still ranks second to the real world as a place to perform daily tasks or enjoy leisure time; the two are not in competition, and in the same way that we strive for security in the real world, cyberspace must be the subject of the same effort, if not more. This is all the more the case over the last decade, African countries, in collaboration with various local and international partners, have made great strides in making the Internet accessible to the continent’s 1.4 billion people.

Certainly, there is a substantial appreciation in the value of the Internet in today’s world. A recent World Bank estimate quantified this interest and suggested that Africa would need a total investment of $100 billion to connect every citizen to the internet by 2030. Already the path to $100 billion is mapped out, with US tech giant Google leading the way, announcing last October plans to invest $1 billion in Africa over the next five years. This means that the number of people who will need protection in cyberspace will increase, and therefore the capacity of the firewall we create must be even greater.

Therefore, next year, just like last year, and in previous years, on February 8, the world will surely celebrate another of many Safer Internet Days to come. The question that must ring in our minds must revolve around the commitment of the day, and whether we are still going to discuss the possibilities of progress, or whether we are going to evaluate the progress made. In this regard, cybersecurity, in the view of the African Telecommunications Union, is a subject that requires less words and more actions. After all, he bears the burden of our lives.

Omo is the Secretary General of the African Telecommunications Union

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