Cybercrimes create image problem for the country

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 vulnerable while many businesses, agencies and individuals are being increasingly threatened by cyber criminals not only within the country but around the world. Indeed, a recent report said North Korean hackers were targeting financial institutions in Nigeria and 17 other countries.

Cybercrimes refer 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 most of these nefarious practices because of the activities of a few 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.

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 and mostly unemployed, 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 all manner of crimes.

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. In addition, the damage to business from the theft of intellectual property is exceedingly high.

Last week, Mr.Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, bemoaned the threat from the cyber criminals. “It is noteworthy to mention that Nigeria currently loses about N78 billion yearly to activities of cyber criminals whose major targets are the financial institutions, and the government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as their affiliates,” he said.

In 2015, the Cybercrimes Act was passed into law to address the challenges. The law criminalises a variety of offences – from ATM card skimming and identity theft to possession of child pornography. 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 knowingly allow their premises to be used to commit crimes.

In response to the apparent failure of the law to address the growing challenge, the minister is canvassing the need for a robust network security, including appropriate network architecture and software, use of encryption, data protection legislation, and information security standards and “other tools of threat protection and detection.” These are in addition to building the capacity of local law enforcement.

Indeed, any measured step taken to curb the widespread activities of the criminals is welcome. They do not only threaten our financial institutions, they create image problem for our country.