Africa Needs Robust Legal Framework to Fight Cybercrime

Alford Nyasha — As Africa, it is essential to reflect on the future implications of the evolving cyber threat landscape. Our continent is increasingly facing cyber threats due to rapid technological advancements.

Over the past two decades, technological advancements have revolutionised various aspects of our lives. While these advancements have brought about social and economic progress worldwide, they have also led to an alarming increase in cyber attacks and technology-facilitated crimes. Hardly a day goes by without news of a cyber attack or the use of technology in criminal activities.

Although the African Union has made significant efforts to combat cybercrimes through initiatives such as the African Union's Convention on Cyber Security and Data Protection laws, the continent still faces notable challenges.

Organisations like INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the African Union Mechanism for Police Cooperation (AFRIPOL) have demonstrated that Africa, like any other continent, is vulnerable to cyber attacks.

However, resource constraints, expertise gaps, lack of cooperation among member countries, and an inadequate legal framework to counter cyber criminal activities pose significant challenges.

Africa has witnessed a significant development in mobile money services, which, from a cybercrime investigations perspective, provides criminals with increased opportunities to target victims and engage in various forms of criminal activities.

Tech-related scams and their implications for law enforcement, regulators, and the general population in Africa are also a cause for concern.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation, leading many organisations in Africa to adopt remote working practices. However, this shift has resulted in an elevated security risk.

The debate surrounding the cybersecurity risks posed by remote workers compared to in-office counterparts continues.

Failure to adhere to policies and procedures exposes institutions to a wide range of cyber attacks, including those targeting third-party services.

Statista reports that 72 percent of organisations express significant concern over the online security risks faced by their remote employees. Unfortunately, many organisations are reluctant to invest in cybersecurity, leaving their systems vulnerable.

Cybersecurity Challenges in the Era of Emerging Technologies

The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) market, coupled with advancements in technologies such as 5G and cloud computing, presents Africa with significant cybersecurity challenges. The collection, transmission, and storage of vast amounts of data across interconnected devices and cloud platforms raise concerns about data security and privacy.

Cybersecurity experts predict an increase in Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) models and the emergence of new cyber attack techniques, botnets, rootkits, hacker-for-hire services, and supply chain attacks which can all be facilitated through cybercrime-as-a-service (CCaaS). Additionally, the surge in cryptocurrency usage is expected to impact Africa, with rising crypto-related crimes, including pyramid and Ponzi schemes, darknet market activities, stolen crypto through hacks, and illicit drug transactions.

The advent of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and quantum computing has led to a rise in cyber-generated crimes. While AI has its advantages in reducing human workload, it also poses challenges for cybercrime investigators, such as facilitating artificial intelligence crimes (AIC).

AI tools like deepfake enable criminals to manipulate multimedia content, facilitating fraudulent and unlawful activities.

The readiness of Africa to embrace these transformative technologies while mitigating their disadvantages remains a critical question.

Protecting personal data and individual awareness

As internet usage continues to soar, an increasing amount of personal information and data is available online. This data can be willingly shared or compromised through cybercrime attacks and data breaches. The risks faced by individuals, companies, organisations, and governments have never been greater. Therefore, cybersecurity awareness becomes paramount, and organisations must adopt cybersecurity frameworks and standards to protect internet users within their countries and across the continent.

The need for international cooperation and a cybercrime convention

While various handbooks and studies have been published, and international/regional organisations have contributed to the prevention and combating of cybercrime, the rate at which critical infrastructure, corporations, and individuals are being exposed raises concerns about the awareness of this cyber pandemic. The adoption of a comprehensive international convention to combat cybercrime, such as the Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes, is crucial.

Such a convention would enhance international law enforcement cooperation, bridge capability gaps, and enable global responses to cybercrime.

While we appreciate the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the first global resolution on artificial intelligence that encourages countries to safeguard human rights, protect personal data, and monitor AI for risks in March 2024 cybersecurity practitioners are looking beyond 2024 for more resolutions and conventions that will help countries fight the cybercrime scourge.

As Africa experiences rapid internet penetration and increasing criminal opportunities, cybersecurity challenges become a shared concern for all member countries. It is imperative to address resource constraints, expertise gaps, and the need for a robust legal framework. By prioritising cybersecurity awareness, adopting cybersecurity frameworks, and facilitating international cooperation, Africa can strengthen its defences against cybercrimes and protect its citizens, institutions, and nations in the digital age.

Alford Nyasha (PhD Candidate) is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) certified cyber crime expert, trainer and a senior law enforcement agent who has both international and regional (INTERPOL, AFRIPOL and Southern African Development Community (SADC) exposure in the field of cybercrime investigation. A holder of a Post Graduate Diploma in Telecommunication Systems, Masters Degree, and multi certifications in cyber forensics and cyber investigations; has been active in the field of cyber crime investigation, IT security and information assurance for more than a decade. His passion is to train people to be digitally aware through cyber awareness programmes He writes in his personal capacity. --

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