NITDA: The Race against Cybercrimes in Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga
Crimes and criminality have shifted from the physical environment to the cyberspace where criminals operate without any physical restrictions. Their footprints traverse the entire cyberspace. Individuals, businesses, corporate organizations as well as government public institutions have experienced one form of cyber-attack or the other.
The United Nations refers to Cybercrime as any criminal activity that uses Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to commit crimes or any situation where a computer network is the target of the cybercriminal. Cybercrimes range from fraudulent emails, identity theft, cyber harassment, phishing, spamming and ATM spoofing all geared to discredit the victims, dispossess them of valuable data and a huge amount of money.
Most trading and business transactions are now conducted on the internet, and this has become the new normal. Restriction on physical interactions in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic has made it even more necessary for businesses to travel on the internet superhighway. In fact, businesses have to utilize the internet to get across to customers outside their immediate geographic locations.
The Social Media remains a major victim of these cyber-attacks because of the massive traffic in the different platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, with the hacking of accounts belonging to celebrities, government officials and official accounts of public institutions.
Cyber-attacks impact individuals, businesses, and public institutions in Nigeria several ways including loss of funds, damage to reputation, breach of customer trust, theft of intellectual property, harmful disruptions, regulatory sanctions, and in some cases result to total collapse. As a matter of fact, Nigeria’s image at home and abroad has suffered because of the activities of a few citizens involved in cyber criminality.
These factors pose a grave danger on any economy, as foreign and even local business people become reluctant to invest their hard-earned funds in an economy erroneously perceived to be dominated by scammers. So, any attempt to overlook these threats can only foretell doom, thereby leaving the economy at the mercy of these cyber-criminals.
In the face of current realities, more individuals, businesses and corporate entities are at risk of these cyber-attacks. This requires the establishment of a strategic and coordinated mechanism at the governmental level to ensure effective surveillance and security for the country’s cyberspace.
Recently, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, inaugurated the upgraded Computer Emergency Readiness and Response Team, CERRT, at the headquarters of National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Abuja.
This initiative could be described as a direct response to the menace of cyber-attacks in Nigeria. It provides a platform for some level of security to the country’s cyberspace. Individuals and corporate entities can expect that the cyberspace will be given the necessary attention, surveillance and vigilance it requires, especially considering the increasing spate of cybercrimes targeted at businesses.
Suffice to say that the CERRT is a timely response to ensure secure cyberspace for the Nigerian internet users. Essentially, this platform is a government centre for coordinating and facilitating information sharing, providing mitigation strategies and recommendations for incident response and recovery.
A major function of the CERRT is to encourage government and private sector collaboration in security development. From all indications, this initiative has a built-in collaboration mechanism to engender cooperation between NITDA and the public and private sectors of the economy in the effort to provide cybersecurity.
So, CERRT will serve as a centre for researching and analyzing trends and patterns of incident activity for government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as the private sector. It is charged with the responsibility of publishing regular alerts and advisories on the latest cybersecurity threats and how to mitigate such risks.
Interestingly, part of its responsibilities includes the development of human capital with an emphasis on IT Security and the provision of cybersecurity awareness and education to citizens.
While applauding NITDA for this magnificent initiative, it is imperative to note that the task before the Agency that is led by Kashifu A. Inuwa, the Director-General is one that must be given the necessary and urgent attention it deserves. it is one thing to set up a system to address cybersecurity but the effective deployment of the CERRT system is a different ball game.
Without doubt, the objectives, and functions of the CERRT is clearly outlined to enable the centre to deliver on its responsibilities without any hindrance. But we cannot overlook the challenges of bureaucracy that tend to bog down laudable initiatives that ended up throwing resources down the drain.
NITDA must strive to provide priority to the two key areas which have to do with developing platforms and programmes that will help create awareness and provide vital education to the teeming population of individuals and businesses. The Agency must propel the campaign for the education of Nigerians on the need to follow certain guidelines on how to secure their data and protect their footprints in cyberspace.
The government has to develop high levels of expertise across emerging specializations in the ICT industry. Personnel should undergo regular training for enhanced capacity to discharge their functions with professionalism and a high sense of accountability. This highly efficient personnel will serve as cyber armies and cyber police to tackle cyber-attacks, protect economic assets and protect the citizens.
To this end, NITDA needs to direct its focus on awareness creation and massive education of the citizenry. This calls for the enlistment of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to help the Agency inform and educate citizens at the grassroots. A strategic partnership between NITDA and NOA would go a long way in mitigating the threats to individuals, businesses, and public institutions in the cyberspace. The agency needs to encourage partnerships with private sector players in the ICT sector to build collaborative platforms.
Inyene Ibanga writes from Wuye, Abuja