An upsurge in African cybercrime targeting the financial sector threatens to derail the rollout of Internet banking and electronic commerce services and has forced the Nigerian government to raise an alarm over the vulnerability of the country's ICT infrastructure.
Nigeria joins other countries in Africa, including Zambia and Kenya, in warning about problems for online banking as a result of cybercrime.
Africa is experiencing an explosion of mobile money services as banks and mobile providers compete for customers who would otherwise not have a bank account. This has increased phishing attacks on unsuspecting customers, in efforts to lure them to fake sites.
Cybercrime in the region has further increased following the landing last year of the SEACOM and TEAMS international cables, which are starting to lower bandwidth and Internet connectivity costs.
Nigeria now wants to formulate a legal framework for national cybercrime prevention, while the Zambian government already has enacted a law that could see a convicted hacker being sent to prison for up to 25 years.
Nigeria is Africa's largest telecom market by investment and subscribers and the country now wants to work with other nations in the region on cybercrime prevention and warning systems. Currently, very few banks that provide Internet services are able to also offer security software to curb cybersecurity attacks. Phishing attacks aimed at bank customers feature unsolicited messages instructing users to follow a link to confirm their account information, as a way for criminals to obtain passwords and user identities.
Sylvester Anyanwu, Nigerian Senate Communications Committee chairman, said in an e-mail interview that "Nigeria, which has 90 percent wireless ICT infrastructure, is very vulnerable to cyber attacks. But we are preparing to ensure the country does not become hostage to cyber criminals."
Like the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority has this week announced the launch of a vigorous campaign to educate consumers about cybercrime.
The Zambian government has introduced the National Policy Framework on Cyber Crime, a package of laws that criminalizes cybersecurity activities that had not been covered in the ICT policy and computer misuse law. Last year, the Zambian government also approved a global cybersecurity protocol that is aimed at protecting Internet users.
However, communication experts warns that Zambia, like many other countries in Africa, lacks the skills, equipment and organizational abilities to fight cybercrimes.
Generally, ignorance has been cited as the reason many people in Africa fall prey to online scams as the criminals' Web sites are built to entice and make people fill out even intimate details.
Joseph Mkandawire, a Zambian businessman who fell victim to a phishing e-mail last week, said the message that asked for his details looked genuine.
"Criminals are then using my e-mail address to appeal for financial assistance claiming that I was stranded in a foreign country because I have run out of cash when in fact I'm in Zambia," Mkandawire said.
The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority, the country's telecom sector regulator, has warned it will review license conditions for ISPs that fail to provide security measures.