THE CHALLENGE OF CYBERCRIMES
The regulators could do more to tame the menace
If there is any lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic across the world, it is in how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems are now as basic to our lives as water and electricity. During the lockdown that lasted several months in many countries, it was technology that enabled people and businesses to be connected. Today, 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. But cyberspace is vulnerable to the antics of criminals, especially in Nigeria where internet scams are reported to have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past two years.
Cybercrimes, as most people are already aware, refer to criminal acts such as identity theft and bank frauds facilitated using the internet. Sadly, to our collective shame, Nigeria is often cited as a breeding ground for most of these nefarious practices because of the activities of some of our citizens. In recent years, many criminal elements have been using these modern telecommunication networks to commit all manner of crimes that give us a bad image globally. Last month in the United States, a Nigerian social media influencer, Ramon Abbas, aka ‘Hushpuppi’ was sentenced in Los Angeles to more than 11 years in prison. Abbas, 40, was also ordered to pay $1.7m in restitution to two fraud victims, according to a statement from the United States Department of Justice. Abbas, according to the American prosecutor, laundered money from various online crimes including business email compromise, a crime in which criminals hack into email accounts, pretend to be someone they’re not, and fool victims into wiring money to them.
Indeed, there is an upsurge of cybercrime in Nigeria. The country is ranked third in global internet crime 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 all manner of crimes. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has consistently reported that about 70 per cent of attempted or successful fraud/forgery cases in the Nigerian banking system were perpetrated via the electronic channels. This is a disincentive for foreign investment.
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 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.
As we have reiterated on this page, an effective response to cybercrimes requires a robust security infrastructure including the use of encryption, data protection legislation, information security standards and other tools.