All the relevant stakeholders must join forces to tame the growing internet crime
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems are now as basic to our lives as water and electricity. Many individuals, corporate organisations and government agencies depend on ICT and computer networks to perform simple as well as complex tasks – from social networking and research to business and commerce. However, the cyberspace is increasingly becoming vulnerable as many businesses, agencies and individuals are being swindled by cyber criminals not only within the country but around the world.
Cybercrime, as most people are already aware, refers to those criminal acts such as identity theft and bank frauds facilitated through the use of the internet. But as most Nigerians also know, to our collective shame, our country is often cited as a breeding ground for many of these nefarious practices because of the activities of some of our citizens. In the last few years, many criminal elements in Nigeria have been using these modern telecommunication networks such as the internet and mobile phones to commit all manner of crimes that give us a bad image globally.
Indeed, there is an upsurge of cybercrime in Nigeria. The country is ranked third in global internet crime after the United States of America and United Kingdom while 7.5 per cent of the world’s hackers are said to be Nigerians. Committed mostly by the young, often called “Yahoo” boys, a precursor of the infamous ‘419’ email scammers, the fraudsters are increasingly taking advantage of the rise in online transactions, electronic shopping, e-commerce and the electronic messaging systems to engage in heinous crime.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported last year that 70 per cent of attempted or successful fraud/forgery cases in the Nigerian banking system were perpetrated via the electronic channels. Between 2000 and 2013, banks in the country lost N159 billion to electronic frauds and cybercrime. In 2014, bank customers lost about N6 billion in Nigeria while in South Africa, the loss amounted to about N8 billion. Indeed, security experts said last week during the 2016 Cybersecurity Awareness Month in Lagos that financial losses to cybercrime may rise to $6 trillion globally by 2021.
Last week, Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, spoke about the rate of cyber related offences such as fraudulent financial transactions and child kidnapping, facilitated through internet communications has increased in recent years. “If African leaders failed to address this threat, there will be negative impacts on economic growth, foreign investment and security,” said Shittu. “An effective response to cybercrimes requires a robust network security including appropriate network architecture and software, use of encryption, data protection legislation, information security standards and other tools of threat protection and detection.”
In 2015, the Cybercrimes Act was passed into law to address the challenges. The law criminalises a variety of offences – from ATM card skimming to identity theft. It imposes, for instance, seven years imprisonment for offenders of all kinds and additional seven years for online crimes that result in physical harm, and life imprisonment for those that lead to death. But like almost every law in the country, there is the problem of enforcement. The “yahoo boys” still daily throng cybercafé premises to “transact” their business with the owners looking away. Yet the law criminalises internet café owners who allow their premises to be used to commit online crimes.
In response to the apparent failure of the law to address the growing challenge, the minister canvassed the need to improve the capacity of relevant ICT and cyberspace stakeholders for the training and support of cyber security officials and the sharing of cyber security best practice from across the globe. These are in addition to building the capacity of local law enforcement. The time to do that is now.