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Addressing Emerging Security Threats of Cyberattacks
Undeniably, cyber threats such as cyber terrorism, espionage, theft and Distributed Denial of Service against persons, businesses or critical national infrastructure is detrimental to the internal security of a nation. To address these threats and its attendant consequences, the Nigerian Army recently held an inter-agency workshop on how to mitigate these vulnerabilities through cyber operations known as cyber warfare, writes Chiemelie Ezeobi
Undoubtedly, every society is increasingly relying on the internet and other information technology tools to engage in personal communication and conduct business activities. This is not just limited to Nigeria. Over the years, this global
development has brought about enormous gain in productivity, efficiency and communication.
However, despite the gains gotten from technology and internet, the dark side exposes users to the risk of cyber-attack, which has become a security concern and for security operatives, they create problems which are detrimental to the security of a nation.
Cyber threats such as cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, cyber theft, Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) against persons, businesses or critical national infrastructure is detrimental to the internal security of a nation. As such, nations round the world are increasingly developing capabilities to mitigate these vulnerabilities through cyber operations known as cyber warfare.
Exercise Crocodile Smile
It was in the interest of such that the Nigerian Army recently held a workshop at the Army Officers Mess, Outer Marina, Lagos. The workshop brought together field commanders of the army, Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Nigeria Police, Department of State Services, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to brainstorm on how to address cyber attacks that threaten peace and security.
Tagged Exercise Crocodile Smile VI, the army headquarters had disclosed that the exercise which would run from October 20 to December 31, would carry out cyber warfare operations to counter negative propaganda by criminal gangs and groups in social media and across the cyberspace.
Contrary to popular belief, the army opined that the exercise is deliberately intended to be all-encompassing to include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda in the social media and across cyberspace.
The army noted that this is the first-ever cyber warfare exercise to be conducted in the history of the African armed forces as the exercise will also include positive identification component aimed at identifying Boko Haram terrorists fleeing from the North-East and other parts of the country as a result of the ongoing operations in the various theaters of operations, especially in the North-east, North central and North-western parts of Nigeria.
In his opening remark, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division, Major General Godwin Umelo, said the workshop themed “Cyberattack as an emerging security threat in Nigeria” would enable security forces review events of the last few weeks in order to prevent future occurrence.
While noting that the exercise Crocodile Smile VI would check armed robbery and other heinous crimes, especially as the yuletide season draws near, Umelo emphasised that this year’s theme has cybersecurity as a major issue.
Assuring law abiding residents of Lagos and Ogun of their safety and security, adding that they should not fear anything, he said the violent manifestation of the #EndSARS protest and the political use of the cyberspace has made the security atmosphere complicated and unpredictable. He added that the platform was an avenue for brainstorming on the likely eventualities that may constrain security stakeholders in coming months.
He said: “In line with Nigerian Army constitutional mandate to provide aid to civil authority, the conduct of interactive workshop of this sort is necessary to provide the platform for the exchange of opinions and ideas and improve overall synergy during joint operations.”
Nigerian Army and Cyber Warfare
The Nigerian Army (NA) has said its cyber warfare capability prevented over 400 intruders from disrupting the service’s portals between 2018 and last month. It said the foiled attempts followed the establishment of the NA Cyber Warfare Command (NACWC) in 2018 in response and preparation against cyberattacks especially cyber terrorism by the elements of Boko Haram terrorists.
This was disclosed by the Commander, 55 Signal Brigade, Brigadier General Henry Yanet at the two-day workshop on cyber warfare ahead of the flag-off of Exercise Crocodile Smile VI in Lagos and Ogun in his paper titled ‘ Cyber Warfare and Internal Security in Nigeria: An Assessment’.
According to General Yanet, the rise in the country’s rate of internet users from about 200,000 in 2000 to 122 million in 2019 also witnessed spike in cyber threats. Making a case for monitoring the cyberspace as both offensive and defensive measures, he said cyberattacks undermined internal and national security, adding that countries like China, Iran and Algeria were among several others in the world with deliberate cybersecurity policies.
Recalling the hacking and defacing of the Defence Headquarters’ (DHQ) and Nigerian Navy’s (NN) websites in 2012 by Boko Haram agents, he said the attacks and others led the Federal Government Cybercrime Prohibition and Prevention Act (CPPA) in 2015.
“The enactment of the CPPA was followed by the establishment of Computer Emergency Response Team (ng CERT) at the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA). The CPPA mandated organisations including the Nigerian Army (NA) to set up sectoral CERTs and always report cyberattacks to ng CERT.
“The NA in 2018 established the NA Cyber Warfare Command (NACWC) in response and preparation against cyberattacks especially cyber terrorism by the elements of Boko Haram terrorists. This was followed by the training of NA personnel in the US, Russia and China on ethical hacking and other cyber warfare courses. Between 2018 and October 2020, the NA cyber warfare capability was able to prevent over 400 intruders from disrupting NA portals. The cyber warfare improved NA operational activities for enhanced internal security in Nigeria.”
Vulnerability to Cyber Attacks
In spite of the foiled cyber attacks, Yanet said the army and other government establishments remain vulnerable to cyberattacks from non-state actors such as the Boko Haram, ‘Anonymous’ and other hacktivists groups who exploit the dark web as was seen during the #ENDSARS protests across the country.
He said: “The #EndSARS protests against police brutality in Nigeria saw the rise in unrestricted use of crypto-currency and bitcoin in the dark web by the organisers of the protests to mobilise fund for campaigns across the country.
“The protests led to human, economic and property loss thereby undermining internal security in Nigeria. It is therefore imperative for the NA to develop cyberwarfare capability to meet up with the ever dynamic cyberspace environment to improve its operations for enhanced internal security in Nigeria.
“The recent hacking of the FGN and some ministries departments and agencies websites by the hacker “Anonymous” during the recent “ENDSARS” nationwide protest shows the flaws in our cybersecurity infrastructure, which has to be addressed for enhanced internal security in Nigeria.
To tackle all these, he advocated effective exploitation of cyberspace through the use of ICT infrastructure and cyber weapons for offensive and defensive cyber actions by state actors in order to protect critical national infrastructures and deter any threat that could lead to danger or fear to lives and property.
Yanet also said there was need for Nigeria to improve its cybersecurity infrastructure to be able to filter fake news as well as have more cybersecurity experts, noting that the country currently has 1,700 registered and certified, a far-cry from the at least, 200,000 it is supposed to have in an ideal situation.
Cyber Warfare and Internal Security
Stressing that cyber threats such as cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, cyber theft, Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) against persons, businesses or critical national infrastructure is detrimental to the internal security of a nation, he said cyber warfare refers to activities of state and non-state actors in cyberspace involving the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment for offensive and defensive operations against other nation or non-state actors while Internal security on the other hand refers to the preservation of the state against all forms of crimes and ensuring relative state of peace and stability in the society.
Giving further breakdown, he said weapons used in cyber warfare include malicious software that have the potential to exploit vulnerabilities in military systems or critical national infrastructure such as communications, power, commerce, transport or financial sectors to disrupt or incapacitate their optimal operations.
“Most countries have recognised the risks in cyberspace and it has been designated as the new domain of warfare joining the traditional domains of land, sea, air and outer space. Currently, manipulation of democratic process and election results has cyberspace dimensions.
“Cyber warfare can be used to destabilise the national economy of a nation through remote shut down of the country’s Critical National Infrastructure or can serve as a force multiplier through the spread of fake news aimed at destabilising the nation’s internal security.
Asides instances of cyber warfare in other nations, he said in Nigeria, the rate of internet users increased from about 200,000 in 2000 to 122,000,000 users in 2019 (NCC, 2019), signifying high penetration of cyberspace in Nigeria.
However, he said rise in the cyber activities however brought about a corresponding increase in cyber threats from 460 cases in 2002 to 2,405 in 2014, adding that cyber terrorism especially from the Boko Haram terrorists has been targeting military establishments.
For instance, in 2012, he said the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) and Nigerian Navy (NN) websites were hacked and defaced by Boko Haram agents, noting that these cyber-attacks undermined internal and national security in Nigeria.
Conversely, he said when a nation fails to exploit cyberspace using ICT and cyber weapons for both offensive and defensive cyber actions, its ability to protect its critical national infrastructures and assets, as well as the lives and property of its people will diminish.
Structure and Response in Nigeria
Giving an overview of internal security and cyber warfare, he said before the 1990s, the ICT infrastructure in Nigeria comprised largely of stand-alone computer systems. As a result, data was not shared between the various stand-alone systems, meaning that ICT systems faced minimal cyber risks.
But between the mid-1990 and 2000, advancements in ICT and increased connectivity of computers and other devices to the Internet led to an upsurge in the number of computer users in Nigeria.
Noting that financial institutions were the first to embrace this technology by offering inter-bank online transactions and the installation of about 2,500 Automated Teller Machines across the country between 1992 and 2000, he said the rush into online banking without requisite security infrastructure in place saw a rise in cyberattacks and economic threats, which exposed the financial sector’s lack of capacity to overcome cyber threats, adding that the threats caused over $456 million in losses between 1996 and 1999 to the financial sector in Nigeria.
“Between 2001 and 2010, there was proliferation of computer networks and technologies in Nigeria due to the reduction in the prices of these items in the global market. As a result of this diffusion, ICT systems became more vulnerable, requiring more specialised technical capacity to protect them. The government and private organisations, initiated measures to develop the ICT capacity of their personnel.
“For instance, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other financial institutions entrenched basic computer operation and knowledge of ICT as prerequisites for employment in their respective organisations. Similarly, the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) began a massive drive to ensure personnel were computer literate. The services acquired computers to assist in automation of logistics and personnel management.
“These efforts translated to increased use of ICT across Nigeria which increases the exposure of the country’s information systems to cyberattacks but the technical capacity to confront these cyber vulnerabilities was not adequate.
“By 2011, cyber warfare had become a concern to governments around the world, particularly following the cyberattacks against Iran and other countries in the preceding years. In Nigeria, the focus on cybersecurity was due to the increasing reliance on computer systems for commerce, financial transaction and communications. These had far reaching influence on the nation’s economy and perception internationally.
“By 2013, malware, phishing, man-in-the-middle, distributed denial of service, and zero-day attacks were popular cyber-attacks in Nigeria, which accounted for over $834 million in losses to the government, financial institutions and individuals across Nigeria. Within this period, Nigeria became blacklisted as one of the countries with a high number of cyber frauds.
“As such, several online merchants blocked international transactions emanating from Nigeria, while major retail stores in Europe and the USA declined to honour credit or debit cards from Nigerians. To address the cyber threats in the country, the FGN enacted the National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy in 2014.
“This policy document outlined Nigeria’s cyber security framework. Critics have observed failures in the policy, in that it did not provide for an aggregate offensive and defensive cyber operations posture for all ministries departments and agencies to follow in projecting Nigeria’s presence in cyber space.“
Highlighting the response by the government, he said: “In 2015, the FGN enacted the CPPA. Section 41 of the Act authorised the ONSA to oversee cyber security efforts of the country. As one of its mandates, the ONSA established the ng CERT in May 2015. The plan was for all sectors, including the AFN, to set up Sectoral CERTs (S-CERTs) to collaborate with the ng CERT in tackling cyber threats, thereby forming a robust system for enhanced cyber security in Nigeria.
“This was expected to be coordinated at the National Cyber Security Coordination Centre which would serve as the nation’s coordination centre for cyber warfare. The inability of the ONSA to set up the National Cyber Security Coordination Centre has deprived all sectors, including the AFN a common platform to collaborate and combat cyberattacks against the country.
“This has made multi-stakeholder collaboration in cyber warfare impossible. In response to observations by stakeholders, the Office of the National Security Adviser in July 2019, constituted a multi – stakeholders committee to review the National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy 2014 with a view to improve on the cyber warfare posture of the FGN. The overview has brought about the need to discuss military involvement in national cyber security and defence.”
Military Involvement in Cyber Security, Defence
Stating that cyber attacks could be injurious to any country that is highly dependent on information systems but lack the wherewithal to defend itself against clever and persistent attacks, he said military experts have asserted that Revolutions in Military Affairs through advances in technology have fundamentally changed our world and how warfare is conducted.
He said this prompted other countries to develop cyber warfare capabilities through their militaries to protect their critical national infrastructures. In line with the National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy 2014, the DHQ established a directorate of cybersecurity atthe Defence Space Administration (DSA), while the NA established the Nigerian Army Cyber Warfare Command (NACWC) in 2018 to protect the NA’s cyber space and critical national infrastructures from cyberattacks. These establishments are discussed subsequently.
For the army, it was the realisation of the need for Nigeria to establish and maintain a secured presence in outer space, that the Nigerian Space Policy was approved in 2001. This policy specified the importance of Defence Space Command
which would facilitate and implement the Defence and security aspects of the Nigerian Space Policy.
Yanet disclosed that the DSA is organised into nine directorates among which is the Directorate of Cyber Security, which is responsible for contending with the increasing cyber threats and the provision of cyber security services to the AFN in particular and other agencies in general. It mandate includes the identification, monitoring, detection, response, and prevention of cyberattacks.
Also in place is the NA CyberWarfare Command (NACWC), which was created to combat rising cyber insecurity from terrorists, criminal organisations, and other threats. The NACWC is charged with the responsibility to monitor, defend, and attack subversive elements in cyberspace.
“Consequently, the command was charged to embark on NA data protection and protection of its networks as well as the information warfare to curb online radicalisation and other terrorist activities being perpetrated in the Internet.
The NACWC has been responsible for the defense of NA networks, and the support of NA field commanders in cyber and internal security operations.
“With the establishment of the command the fight against terror, insurgency, armed banditry, pipeline vandalism, herdsmen, and militia killings are continually being checkmated through real-time information provided to the fighting forces and commanders in the field from the highly sophisticated equipment. The huge responsibility of defending and sustaining an aggressive posture in cyberspace requires technical expertise and experience. The NACWC would need to build its capacity over time to be able to meet its obligations.”
On some of the challenges of cyber warfare and internal security in Nigeria, he said they include technical capacity in cyber warfare, cyber security infrastructure and national database.
On technical capacity, he said it comprises resources like knowledge, talents, skills, and abilities essential to drive an organisation in achieving its desired goals and objectives. “This is achieved through constant training and experience especially when a function is performed repeatedly over time. Technical capacity for cyber warfare entails having personnel with the requisite training and experience in cyber warfare related activities.
“ In addition to undergraduate or graduate training, some certifications applicable to cyber warfare include Certified Ethical Hacker and Certified Penetration Tester. As at 2019, out of the 7,294 cyber security professionals in Africa, Nigeria had 1,675, representing 22.9 per cent of Africa’s cyber security professionals. The NCC reports that there were about 122 million Internet users in Nigeria as at May 2019. This shows about one cyber security professional for every 83,582 Internet users in Nigeria. The success of Nigeria’s cyber security dominance depends on the availability of manpower with the requisite expertise in cyber warfare to enhance internal security in the country.
“The ideal requirement based on industry standard is one cyber security expert to 1,000 people in an organisation. Nigeria with an estimated population of over 200 million requires about 200,000 cyber security experts for a comprehensive cyber warfare posture for the country. Presently, the NCC reports that there are about 1,700 registered and certified cyber security experts across all sectors in Nigeria representing only 0.85 per cent of the cybersecurity experts required.
“Thus, Nigeria’s technical capacity is low for the provision of adequate cyber warfare support to enhance internal security. The low technical capacity can be attributed to lack of cyber security programmes in the school curriculum which are essential for any country or organisation to conduct offensive and defensive cyber operations in order to achieve cyber dominance in Nigeria. Adequate training in cyber security related courses would promote technical competence and build capacity in cyber warfare to seamlessly support Nigeria’ cyber warfare efforts.”
On cyber security infrastructure, Yanet said it was essential for effective conduct of secured cyber operations across all sectors in Nigeria for enhanced internal security. “Cybersecurity infrastructure includes the hardware, software and network devices with the capability of defence against cyber-attacks while also conducting offensive cyber operations against known as well as suspected adversaries simultaneously.
“ Ideally, a robust ICT infrastructure is expected to provide better services, boost agility, increase productivity and strengthen networks within a country. The dearth of cyber security infrastructure is largely due to inadequate investment in cyber infrastructure. “
Finally, the existence of a reliable and harmonised national database is crucial to the application of cyber warfare for enhanced internal security. “In Nigeria, the security agencies rely on discrete databases to gather biometric data for the identification of suspect that pose threat to internal security.
“ In 2019, the security agencies use the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) database to track and arrest over 120 bandits across the country. Nigeria does not have a reliable national database of its citizens towards identifying possible threats against internal security. The non-availability of national database has made it difficult for the security agencies to utilise cyber warfare facilities to profile suspected criminals.
“The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), an agency established to harmonise national database has often complained of paucity of fund as its inability to perform its tasks. The lack of central database has also made it difficult to identify foreigners that enter the country to commit crimes such as cattle rusting, banditry and other criminalities that endanger internal security.
“Hence, Nigeria requires a centralised database for enhanced cyber warfare and internal security in Nigeria. The issues and challenges discussed, brings to fore, the need to discuss prospects of cyber warfare for internal security in Nigeria”, he opined.
Prospects of Cyber Warfare in Enhancing Internal Security
Speaking on prospects of cyber warfare for enhancing internal security in Nigeria, Yanet said it includes the National Cyber Security Fund (NCSF) and Executive Order 5 (EO-5).
Under the NCSF, he said the CPPA 2015 was established to present a framework for regulating Nigeria’s cyberspace. “The Act focused on the prohibition, prevention, detection, response, investigation, and prosecution of cybercrimes in Nigeria. Section 44 of the Act established the National Cyber Security Fund.
“In accordance with the Act, in June 2018, the CBN issued a directive for deposit money banks, financial houses and payment service providers to begin remittance of 0.005 per cent levy on online transactions for the National Cyber Security Fund as stipulated in the CPPA 2015.
“ The Fund, which is domiciled at the CBN, is aimed at providing required funding for cyber security related activities in Nigeria, since statutory budgetary allocations are usually insufficient. The levy is from online transactions by businesses mentioned in the Second Schedule of the Act, some of which include Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications providers, Internet Service Providers, and banks, among others.
“The National Cyber Security Fund was designed to facilitate provision of critical cyber security infrastructure in Nigeria and fund human capacity development in ministries departments and agencies like the ng CERT. As of December 2019, the fund had accumulated over ₦11.5 billion and is projected to reach ₦50 billion by 2021.
“The National Cyber Security Fund will provide the necessary support for the realisation of a balanced cyber security posture in Nigeria, which would boost cyber warfare for enhanced internal security. Therefore, the National Cyber Security Fund, if well implemented, could be a good prospect for generating required funds that could improve the cyber warfare capability in the country, thereby enhancing internal security in Nigeria.”
On the second prospect which is the Executive Order, he said it was signed into law on February 5, 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari and the thrust of the EO-5 is the recognition of the vital role of science, technology and innovation in national economic development, particularly in the area of promoting made in Nigeria goods and services.
“Strategically, the main objectives of the EO5 are the harnessing of domestic talents and the development of indigenous capacity through R&D in ICT, science and engineering for the promotion of technological innovation needed to drive internal security. These are expected to enhance the achievement of the nation’s development goals across all sectors of the economy.
“Article 1(6) of the EO-5, which covers local content, stipulates that ministries departments and agencies shall adopt local technology to replace foreign ones, where they meet set standards. The Nigerian Society of Engineers also observes that the EO-5 would facilitate the engagement of indigenous professionals in the planning, design, and execution of national security projects, including those in the ICT and cyber security sectors.
“The EO-5 is a step towards a sustainable path and to a future in which local production of software and hardware for ICT and cyber security requirements for critical national infrastructure purposes will mitigate dependence on foreign products. Article 5(2b) tasked the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to collaborate with relevant ministries departments and agencies to promote R&D in all sectors of the economy towards the achievement of internal security goals.
“ With the EO-5 in place, many indigenous software and hardware developers will be encouraged to provide digital solutions for the ONSA, AFN as well as other ministries departments and agencies and private organisations. This would generate employment for the talented youths, while enhancing internal security in Nigeria. Thus, if sustained, the EO-5 holds good prospects for cyber warfare at enhancing internal security in Nigeria.”
According to Yanet, strategies must be put in place if such cyber threats must be tackled. These strategies, he said must include review of school curriculum to include advanced cyber warfare courses, development of framework for management of national cybersecurity fund and special intervention fund for NIMC.
In reviewing of school training curriculum to include advanced cyber warfare courses, he said the objective of this strategy is to include advance courses in Nigeria training curriculum with a view to improving expertise in cyber warfare towards enhanced internal security in Nigeria.
“The review would cover the contemporary trends in ethical hacking and cybersecurity among others. It will also entail equipping the relevant universities and research institutions with standard cybersecurity laboratories as well as qualified lecturers and laboratorytechnicians.
“The courses to be included are certified information systems security professional, certified information security manager and ethical hacking certifications, among others required for cyberwarfare towards enhanced internal security in Nigeria.
“The Federal and States Ministries of Education, Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) could work together and review the training curriculum on cyber related courses in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The fund for the review of the training curriculum could be provided by the Federal Ministry of Education,” he added.
Also, addressing the strategy of the development of framework for management the NCSF, he said it would help galvanise support and cooperation of stakeholders towards payment of the imposed 0.005 levy as this would ultimately pave the path for the creation of a robust financial base to drive procurement of cyber warfare infrastructure inNigeria.
In the regards, he said the strategy needs to specify in detail how the NCSF will be utilised while the major custodians of the NCSF namely ONSA and CBN also need to make requisite effort to ensure the strategy engenders transparency, avoids duplication of efforts and aligns with international base practices.
“Also, there is need to ensure that the strategy addresses incentives for the private sector in the form of venture capital for cybersecurity technology as well as human capacity development. Furthermore, ONSA and CBN should work in consonance with stakeholders and organise forums to discuss the necessity to bolster cooperation for the NCSF in furtherance of procurement of cyberwarfare infrastructure,” he posited.
Another key strategy is the special intervention fund to the NIMC, which he said would address the challenge of low budgetary allocation to the commission for the harmonisation and creation of a central database in Nigeria.
“The objective of this strategy is to ensure that enough funds are made available for the speedy establishment of a central database for identification of Nigerians. Assistance could also be solicited from the private sector and wealthy Nigerians to support the creation of the database.
“In this regard, the NIMC need to table the requirements for special intervention fund for the harmonisation and creation of a central database in Nigeria through the Presidency to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval. This could be achieved through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) special intervention fund window. The NIMC could also approach wealthy Nigerians, corporate bodies and businesses that are willing to contribute funds for completion of harmonisation and creation of a central database in Nigeria.”