South Africa’s cyber security under siege

Published on Thursday, June 25, 2015 1:12:00 PM

It is more than cause for concern that South Africa has been revealed as the African country currently most targeted by cybercriminals.














This came to light during the recent 2015 Security Summit in Johannesburg, where Vernon Fryer, chief technology officer at Vodacom, also disclosed that in the past 18 months Africa has seen a 150% increase in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. A DDoS attack aims to temporarily or indefinitely interrupt services of a host connected to the Internet.


The upshot of the escalation of attacks (phishing and Internet fraud) in South Africa is that an estimated R2.2-billion is lost to the economy each year. The question remains how exactly the situation can be managed and curtailed. Already several commentators have argued that government simply is not doing enough to wrest control away from cybercriminals.


Quoted by IT News Africa, Professor Basie von Solms, director of the Centre for Cyber Security at the University of Johannesburg, said a single point of contact was needed to tackle the problem.  “The AU Convention shows SA is far behind as far as cyber security is concerned. Government and private sector must work together to cyber secure SA.”


SA Centre for Information Security CEO Beza Belayneh told Business Day last year that South Africa ranked somewhere between third and sixth in the world for cybercrime. He, too, emphasised that government was not doing enough. Belayneh pointed out that government had been preoccupied with the controversial Protection of Personal Information Act, which focuses on the breach of privacy, rather than focusing on cyber security.


In light of the information that emerged from this year’s Security Summit, that is an issue perhaps worth revisiting, particularly as there have been subsequent developments. On 8 June South Africa’s Telecommunications and Postal Services Ministry signed a Cyber Security Pact with China, ostensibly to transfer skills and protect the country from online attacks. However, the agreement has raised concerns in certain quarters that this might be an effort to suppress Internet freedoms in South Africa.


Marian Shinn, the Shadow Minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services, said government was aligning itself with a nation notorious for cracking down on its citizens’ online presence. “China has earned a reputation for suppressing freedom of expression of its citizens by clamping down on social media sites, erecting firewalls to restrict citizens’ access to news and information from outside sources, and mounting cyber-attacks on Western corporations,” she said in a statement. “The South African government has been reticent to share with the public its strategy and initiatives in the spheres of cyber security and Internet governance. The fact that its pact with China is its first ‘outing’ of its vision in this sphere is alarming. South Africans must know the details of this pact and gain clear insight into how it will affect our Internet usages and privacy.”


While one is loath to pass judgment on such sensitive matters, there does appear to be justification for a deeper probe into where government’s allegiances lie in terms of cyber security – the financial losses to the economy, or safeguarding state information. 


By John Harvey

Find me on Twitter: @johnharvey78


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