The ongoing accelerated growth of the technology space and widening adoption across Africa-based SMEs and organisations have exposed the region’s soft underbelly on matters of cybersecurity. As cybercriminals continue to develop new methods of exploiting digital ecosystems, experts in the cybersecurity sector are warning business owners, governments, and individual internet users in Africa to remain extra vigilant and proactively adopt measures to protect their digital assets.
As far as innovations go, artificial intelligence (AI) has been singled out as a double-edged sword. Not only has it proven beneficial to enterprises but it is also being used to drive new and sophisticated cyber-attacks. However, when it comes to enhancing digital ecosystems, integrating AI into cybersecurity presents new opportunities and challenges. Following the success and use cases in other regions, Africa must embrace this technology sooner rather than later while preparing for its potential loopholes.
Armed with AI-powered cyber protection tools, enterprises in Africa can cost-effectively run their day-to-day operations while significantly minimizing the risk of falling prey to cybercriminals. AI-centric cyber protection can help SMEs and other large organisations in the region to improve their early detection and response efforts, automating repetitive tasks, and boosting overall online security.
However, cybercriminals across the globe are increasingly exploiting the effectiveness of AI to create complex tools that can launch attacks or evade detection by outdated cybersecurity software. To avoid falling victim and incurring huge losses, businesses in Africa must, therefore, ensure that they not only have skilled professionals who can operate and manage AI-powered cybersecurity tools effectively but also have the right cyber protection tools in place.
The Cyber Threat Landscape
Enterprises in developing economies in Africa are constantly facing a myriad of cybersecurity threats with some of them, unfortunately, losing millions of dollars in the process. According to InterPol’s African Cyberthreat Assessment Report 2021, Africa has the fastest-growing internet networks in the world. This growth has, however, exposed the region to unimaginable risks that need to be addressed with urgency.
South Africa, which is ranked as the sixth-most dense region for cybercrime in the world, reported a surge from 14.1 victims per one million internet users in 2019 to 50.8 victims in 2020. According to the Acronis End-of-Year Cyber Threats Report 2022, financial phishing attempts rose significantly in Kenya and Nigeria in Q1 and Q2 of 2022 as banks, online payment systems, and e-commerce websites were targeted indiscriminately.
In Kenya, for instance, over 100,000 financial phishing attacks were detected – a 201 per cent increase compared to Q1 with Nigeria reporting over 61,000 financial phishing attacks, representing an increase of 79 per cent compared to Q1.
Businesses and organisations in these emerging economies have reported numerous cases that range from online scams, digital extortion, business email compromise, ransomware, botnets, espionage, a threat to critical infrastructure, and organised crime, among others.
Most recently, one of Kenya’s leading supermarket chains, Naivas, became the latest victim of a data breach following a ransomware attack by Threat Actor – a rather unfortunate incident that raises crucial questions about the continent’s preparedness. Businesses operating in the region, therefore, need to step up their cyber protection efforts and fast-track the adoption and subsequent deployment of effective countermeasures.
The way to go
As part of the overall cyber protection strategy, the region’s business landscape needs to map out and implement greater regional cooperation, increase its investments in cybersecurity efforts and capabilities, develop innovation-driven national strategies, greater reliance on expertise and insights from the private sector, and improved employee awareness and education.
South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are among the African countries that have made significant progress in developing national cybersecurity strategies. However, there are still lies several challenges such as overreliance on the government sector for cybersecurity expertise and decision-making, limited resources, lack of awareness, inadequate policies and regulations, and limited cybersecurity expertise.
The use of AI in fighting cyber criminals will be the ultimate game-changer. Its possibilities are endless but only if adopted and deployed strategically. Emerging economies in Africa have a fighting chance in the name of AI-enabled cyber protection. By partnering with the tried-and-tested cyber protection experts, the African business landscape will ultimately attract more investments in the region – a move that will have a remarkable impact on its citizenry.
Article was written by Peter French, General Manager, MEA & South Asia, Acronis.