Securing digital Africa

Posted on: February 8, 2017 by Philippe Duluc

In a recent post by our colleague Sophie Chambon-Diallo, we learnt how the new digital economy is accelerating the development of Africa. However, this progress has its consequences: increased cybercrime. In 2015, the number of global cyber-attacks grew by 38%, with threats rising across the African continent. Here, we explore how the threat landscape is growing even more complex in Africa, some of the new innovative solutions that are being introduced to combat the risks, as well as our recommendations for developing digital trust and building a climate of confidence.

Why digital Africa is becoming more difficult to protect

Thanks to the prolific rise of mobile technology in Africa – smartphone use has doubled across the continent in two years, reaching 226 million users – we’re seeing increased levels of interconnectivity between different networks, assets and devices. This is opening up the infrastructure to new vulnerabilities from increasingly sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals. On top of this, employees in the workplace are bringing in their own devices and connecting them to employer networks more frequently, downloading new software, systems and applications without considering the potential security consequences. Known as Shadow IT, this makes it difficult for security professionals to keep track of the current threats to their business.

Exacerbating the problem is the lack of skilled resource required to protect against cyber-attacks. This is not isolated to Africa however – Frost & Sullivan recently predicted that by 2020, there will be a 1.5m shortfall of cyber security professionals worldwide. There is also a level of inertia amongst African communities, and feelings of “it won’t happen to me”, with many citizens not realising that they could easily become victims of cybercrime.

AI and encryption in Africa is emerging

As the threat of cybercrime intensifies, new technologies are coming to fruition across Africa to protect citizens, businesses and governments. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data analytics are being deployed to enable a shift from simply monitoring threats to detecting hacks and predicting them before they occur. End-to-end encryption is also becoming more prominent in messaging and calling apps in Africa, such as WhatsApp, Signal and Allo.

So how can we develop digital trust in Africa? Here are our key recommendations:

  • Improved coordination: There must be increased collaboration between African organizations, political parties and nations to develop regulatory bodies and standards that can be adhered to. Looking at Europe, ENISA is an agency that unites countries across the continent to ensure network and information security policies are consistent.
  • Increased Government funding: Governments need to plough more investment into African schools and universities to develop software engineers, computer scientists and data security professionals for future generations to crack down on cybercrime.
  • More focus on upskilling: Where a shortfall of skilled resource exists, businesses need to invest in internal training to enable existing employees to retrain in new areas. The tech landscape is evolving at such a rapid pace, that often the skills taught in schools and universities are no longer relevant by the time the individuals graduate and enter the workplace.

While other markets have tried and test different digital technologies over the past century and are burdened by legacy IT, African countries are often at an advantage, having invested in the latest designs and innovations first, which has advanced progress and development more quickly. By adopting these suggested approaches, there is real potential for Africa to become the basis of new thinking. Increased interconnectivity between states and nations will result in greater communication and collaboration – the future of digital Africa.

Notes about the authors:

christian aghroumAbout Christian Aghroum, vice-chairman of CyAN (Cybersecurity and cybercrime Advisors Network, an international non-profit association). Christian is an international consultant in management of security, cyber-security and crisis management. Expert at the Council of Europe, he is working for governments and companies around the world. Former head of the French National Cybercrime Unit, he is also a lecturer at Universities of Geneva, Lausanne and Montpellier.

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About Philippe Duluc
Chief Technology Officer, Atos Big Data & Security
Philippe Duluc graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, initially working as a military engineer, first for the French Ministry of Defence, and then for the Prime Minister’s office, in various security and technology management positions. After 20 years of service, he joined the private sector, first as the Corporate CSO for Orange Group, then as the Manager of Bull’s Cybersecurity Business Unit. After having put in place mission critical systems within Atos’ Big Data & Cybersecurity Division, he is now CTO of Atos’ Big Data & Security Division. He is an adviser to the European Network and Information European Agency, and has a keen interest in scientific and technical domains involved in information society development: cryptography, security, computing, communications, and Big Data, including future directions like the quantum revolution.