Gone are the days when customers would wait in long lines at the bank and when businesses had to pay their staff by check. These tasks can now be completed with the touch of a button. This is also true for government services, with many countries across the continent developing online portals to better serve their citizens.
Perhaps the sector that has most benefited from the rapid expansion of internet connectivity is the private sector. Large businesses in Africa have been quick to adopt web-based services, from banks and telecommunications firms to agricultural and energy companies. As these businesses have embraced cloud computing and other new technologies, costs have gone down and profits have increased.
The challenge many companies, consumers, and governments now face is the security of their data, intellectual property, and even hard-earned money. The most at-risk businesses include banks and telcos, with ATMs, credit and debit cards, and mobile money of most concern.
While there is a consensus about the growing cybersecurity threat, the 2017 International Telecommunications Union Global Cybersecurity Index ranked Africa as demonstrating the lowest level of commitment to cybersecurity. Indeed, the 2017 Serianu Africa Cybersecurity Report indicates that 90% of African organizations spend on average less than $10,000 a year on cybersecurity. With the majority of these companies coming from the banking and financial sectors, we all have something to worry about.
If we are to grow our businesses, maintain ownership of home-grown knowledge, and protect citizens from cybercrime, we need a coordinated strategy that addresses vulnerabilities across devices – from mobile phones to personal computers and enterprise servers. This can only be achieved if we invest in local cybersecurity skills, boost cyber resilience, protect personal and company data, and ensure cyber risks are considered in all institutions - small, medium, or large. Financial institutions must also raise awareness about their chargeback, refund, and card protection policies to instill confidence and trust.
Doing so will not only protect economic gains already made but also guarantee future prosperity. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, Africa’s e-commerce industry is expected to grow to $75 billion by 2025. If we can protect this and other growing digital markets, we will ensure maximum value is extracted, all while keeping our data safe. In addition, Orange Cyberdefense estimates that the African market for cybersecurity itself will expand from 1.7 billion dollars in 2017 to more than 2.5 billion in 2020. Clearly, the opportunities are vast.
Safeguarding Africa’s digital prosperity requires everyone to understand the role they play in cybersecurity – from a father using Mpesa (a mobile phone-based money transfer) to pay his child’s school fees to a Chief Technology Officer at a multinational corporation deciding on his/her company’s budget priorities. Governments can support this process by introducing strict laws through reforms, putting in place robust regulatory and legal frameworks and cooperating across borders through clusters of regional CERT (Cyber Emergency Response Team) agencies to identify threats and respond in real time. Cybercriminals move fast, but by working together and giving cybersecurity the attention it deserves, Africa can counter any attack and reap the benefits of the digital economy.