Sponsored By

Breaking cybersecurity news, news analysis, commentary, and other content from around the world, with an initial focus on the Middle East & Africa.

African Cybersecurity: Facing 2024's Biggest Hurdles

Key trends in African information security this year will include biometric deployments and privacy concerns, and the rise of misinformation.

Tracy Z. Maleeff

February 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Map of Africa with the countries named and red dots
Source: Peter Kovac via Alamy Stock Photo

COMMENTARY

2024 looks to be a transformative year for the nations of Africa. The Pan-African Payment and Settlement System is beginning to create a foothold on the continent, millions of Africans will vote in elections and international engagement with African nations will gain traction with scheduled summits and conferences with Italy, South Korea, and India. That's in addition to Middle East and Africa nations' involvement with intergovernmental organization BRICS, whose 2023 gathering was hosted in South Africa.

For African information security, the two areas of digital life that are having a significant impact on the continent are biometrics and disinformation campaigns. Let's take a deep dive into why these specific sectors are getting the attention this year.

Proliferation and Advancements in Biometrics

In 2021, the United Nations heralded the proliferation of biometric technology in Africa. In the three years since, there has been advancements and stumbles for several of the 54 nations on the continent.

Nigerian digital identity verification company Smile ID provided analysis in its "2024 Digital ID Fraud in Africa Report," which found that 80% of identity fraud in Africa is committed with national identity documents. Credit bureau Compuscan estimated that identity theft has cost the South African economy alone between US$50 million to $80 million per year. 

Here's what to expect from selected African nations regarding their advancements in digital identification initiatives in 2024:

  • Uganda's Communication Commission began to deactivate Ugandan SIM cards in November 2023 for mobile devices if they were not biometrically registered, for the purpose of cracking down on crime committed with stolen SIMs and/or IDs. Similar initiatives of connecting biometric ID to a SIM card are also occurring in Ghana, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

  • Although Namibia instituted the biometric ID SIM card requirement on Jan. 1, 2023, it has since suspended that out of concern from citizens who claim their national mobile communications company has committed violations of personal digital data and privacy.

  • Theft of humanitarian aid in Ethiopia was so widespread that the US Agency for International Development paused operations while it worked to institute biometric protocols to curb the theft of resources.

  • Zimbabwe works to replace immigration officers with biometric identification checks at border crossings.

There is also concern among experts and activists that the collected biometric data will be utilized for surveillance or harassment by authorities. Science Direct reported that 36 out of 54 African countries have enacted data protection laws, and Namibians are facing the choice of whether to hand over sensitive biometric data to the country's premier telco.

This combination of factors should make the combination of biometrics and data privacy among the big African topics this year.

Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation

The unholy trinity of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation is nothing new to Africa. With close to 400 million social media users on the continent, opportunities for exposure to and spreading of messages with ulterior motives is certain to be on the rise in the coming year.

Africa's large population, advances with digital technology, and its citizens eager for news, information, and entertainment are contributing factors to the damaging rise of disinformation. The current state of global politics leaves some countries desiring allies and sees Africa as a fertile garden for the planting of divisive seeds to take root to cause disruption and instability.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies has created maps about the proliferation of disinformation, citing Russia as the largest intentional disseminator of "false information with the intent of advancing a political objective." In fact, Russia's presence in Africa is so significant that news outlets like Voice of America leave nothing to the imagination with headlines like, "Guns, Mercenaries, Minerals – Russia Embraces Africa."

Not to be outdone, China is also active in Africa and is impacting journalists as well as cementing a presence there through acquisitions of land and companies.

Helping Africa fend off disinformation campaigns will be exceptionally important in the coming year, when considering the significant number of elections and legislative polls to take place there in 2024. Many of the burgeoning information security groups in African nations are attempting to combat disinformation through education and awareness. In Nigeria specifically, #NoGoFallMaga is a grassroots movement organized by the CyberSafe Foundation to rally young people to become savvy to disinformation and scams.

It's clear Africa is facing the same challenges as the rest of the world, whether the issue regards data protection and ensuring that businesses operate fairly, or that businesses operate in a manner that citizens are clear on what is being transmitted to them is true. As 2024 gets into its second month, there could be a turbulent ride ahead.

About the Author(s)

Tracy Z. Maleeff

Principal, Sherpa Intelligence LLC

Tracy Z. Maleeff, aka InfoSecSherpa, is the principal of Sherpa Intelligence LLC. She previously held cybersecurity roles at the Krebs Stamos Group, The New York Times Company, and GlaxoSmithKline. Prior to joining the Information Security field, Tracy worked as a librarian in academic, corporate, and law firm libraries. She holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh in addition to undergraduate degrees from both Temple University (magna cum laude) and the Pennsylvania State University. Tracy has been featured in the Tribe of Hackers: Cybersecurity Advice and Tribe of Hackers: Leadership books. Tracy publishes an Information Security & Privacy newsletter at infosecsherpa.medium.com. See https://linktr.ee/infosecsherpa for talks, interviews, and more.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like


More Insights