Cyber security takes centre stage as SADC leaders meet

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Mapolao Mokoena, SADC director of infrastructure and services.
Mapolao Mokoena, SADC director of infrastructure and services.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is increasingly coordinating its efforts to reinforce regional cyber security, and the bloc believes more needs to be done to address the constantly evolving threats.

To discourage cyber attacks and punish perpetrators, the SADC leaders are developing a framework this year that allows the bloc to protect online users against cyber crime.

The efforts by the SADC come as data fraud, theft and cyber attacks were cited as the fourth and fifth biggest threats facing the world, according to the nearly 1 000 decision-makers surveyed by the World Economic Forum in this year’s Global Risks Report.

"Cyber crime is becoming a serious concern in the region like elsewhere across the world," said Mapolao Mokoena, SADC director of infrastructure and services.

Addressing media in Tanzania’s capital, Dares Salaam, ahead of the 39th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government planned for the weekend, she said the matter is being treated seriously.

The high-ranking official said some of the 16-member states of the bloc, including Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Mauritius, have already established cyber crime emergency response units.

Mokoena implored the SADC countries to improve quality of infrastructure through rehabilitation and modernisation in the ICT, energy and transport sectors.

Tanzania passed the Cyber Crime Act in 2015, which seeks to control various criminal acts associated with information and communications technology.

Locally, the Cyber Security Bill, initiated by the South African government, through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, is before Parliament.

The legislation seeks to create offences which have a bearing on cyber crime, to criminalise the distribution of data messages which are harmful, and provide for interim protection orders, among other issues.

According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre, South Africa ranks third globally for the number of cyber crime victims, with consumers and businesses losing an estimated R2.2 billion a year.

Concerns about cyber crime being a huge problem in Africa and the SADC have been tabled numerous times, but resulted in more talk than action.

Earlier this year, Dr Brett van Niekerk of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville, speaking at the 14th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security, warned the region is unprepared regarding cyber crime.

In his critique, Van Niekerk said in order to prevent major escalations in cyber crime, SA must build collaborations, in the region, to try to create stability in the SADC.

His assessment is that there are limited considerations of state-backed cyber attacks among countries in the SADC region, and Africa in general is weak in cooperation with regard to addressing cyber risks.

"Coercive cyber capabilities are becoming a new instrument of state power as countries seek to strengthen national security and exercise political influence," he said.

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