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Bolstering Africa’s Cybersecurity

A thriving economy needs several factors to continue an upward trajectory — but is Africa in a position to enable these factors to take place?

Bill Carter, Cyber Security Engineer, Cato Networks

August 15, 2023

4 Min Read
Blue and dark lit image of the globe with Africa in the centre
Source: Jimmie Tolliver via Alamy Stock Photo

According to recent data, African nations faced a significantly larger number of cyberattacks in 2022 than in years past. For example, businesses in Kenya reported an 82% increase in such attacks, while those in South Africa and Zambia each reported 62% increases.

It's odd that there should be such a rise in the level of attacks. Is it because attackers were specifically targeting consumers in those nations, or is there another explanation? 

We must take into account the important socioeconomic factors at work. For instance, in 2022, it was estimated that approximately 282 million people were undernourished, and 113 million people across 15 African countries required urgent humanitarian assistance.

A thriving economy needs several factors to continue an upward trajectory, among them public spending, business investment, and deregulation of businesses. But is Africa in a position to enable these factors to take place? Is the continent too fractured to be able to uphold a cybersecurity defense against attacks?

It is clear that there is enough population in some areas, but do the opportunities to learn and gain employment exist?

Growth in the Future

Financial analysts still believe the continent has enormous growth potential, due to its youthful population — the median age of whom is estimated to be 18.8 years — who are eager for gainful employment, social interaction, and greater global connectivity.

While we may be pleased to discover this population has more access to information through digital means, it's apparent that not enough cybersecurity education has been made widely available. 

In recent weeks and months, we have seen opportunities arise, often provided by academia and government, to improve cyber education. However, some parts of Africa are still without decent levels of electricity. So, is the dream of cyber education for all unattainable?

According to a Liquid C2 survey, Africa is facing a serious shortage of 100,000 qualified cybersecurity specialists, despite the fact that 68% of respondents said they had either hired cybersecurity employees or worked with a cybersecurity team in the preceding year. Only 7,000 qualified cybersecurity experts are thought to exist: This equates to one for every 177,000 people in Africa. 

Despite this, Africa-based data security analysts point out that a dearth of qualified technicians coupled with a lack of investment in cybersecurity has been the direct contributor to a growth in the amount and scale of successful cyberattacks. In fact, according to research from IFC and Google, Africa’s e-economy is expected to reach $180 billion by 2025, but its lack of security support could halt that growth. 

Most of these campaigns are based upon spam or phishing efforts derived from information garnered from open source intelligence (OSINT), which is often more effective against a remote workforce that may be more exposed to attack techniques while outside of the technical and administrative controls of traditional office work. As we have stated many times publicly, the human being is one of the most exploited threat vectors in the world.

Recognizing the Threats

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting African countries, highlighting the critical need for strong defense and all-encompassing cybersecurity regulations. While it is evident these countries face significant cybersecurity challenges, there is a positive trend toward the rapid introduction of measures to counter these threats. 

Recognizing that African nations are under constant cyberattack allows the cybersecurity industry to better understand and address their unique vulnerabilities. By offering tailored support and solutions, the industry can play a pivotal role in bolstering the defenses of African countries and safeguarding their growing digital economies.

Collaboration and knowledge sharing between stakeholders will be crucial in building a resilient cybersecurity ecosystem to effectively protect these nations from evolving cyber threats.

Need for More Protocols as Well as Staff

The rapid growth of e-commerce in Africa underscores the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures. However, it is concerning that Interpol reports that more than 90% of businesses on the continent operate without essential cybersecurity protocols. This gap exposes the vulnerability of African businesses to cyberattacks, resulting in significant financial losses of over $4 billion annually.

Successful cybersecurity often relies upon a financially viable scenario, as with support and financial investment, a cybersecurity strategy becomes more realistic. Africa, as an emerging continent, is witnessing rapid technological advancements, necessitating the need to keep pace with this evolving landscape. Ensuring secure ecommerce platforms is imperative to protect businesses and customers from the detrimental impact of cyber threats.

As organizations seek cybersecurity and managed security service providers to fill the talent gap, those providers can find themselves quickly overwhelmed by volumetric factors — such as an increase in demand for assistance and an increase in attacks — driving the need for increased security. It's necessary these efforts be accompanied by meaningful public policy, regulatory frameworks, and cybersecurity awareness initiatives.

Also, the increasing spend for cybersecurity providers is often outmatched by the costs of not being secure, and the financial tipping point between investment in cybersecurity and the cost of being compromised and recovery has not been achieved. 

Increasing cybersecurity and reducing both incentives for and effectiveness of attackers is a long game that will require a multiyear commitment from government, businesses, and individuals.

About the Author(s)

Bill Carter

Cyber Security Engineer, Cato Networks

Having spent more than 25 years in the cybersecurity and IT infrastructure industry, Bill Carter is passionate about protecting our digital lifestyle. His experience in the financial, manufacturing, retail, and healthcare verticals as well as his work with some of the world’s largest IT security solution providers has given Bill a broad base of experience from which to draw insights. Found frequently travelling to address large audiences, Bill believes that being bold and embracing change can inspire the next wave of innovation in the cybersecurity industry.

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