Minister: Cyber crime limits govt, business potential

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Cyber crime has become a powerful countervailing force that is limiting the potential of business and government, says communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Speaking this week to business people and academia attending cyber security conference, Threat 2019, in Sandton, Ndabeni-Abrahams said international and domestic cyber criminals are increasingly viewing government, businesses and private individuals as attractive targets for a range of cyber crimes.

Ndabeni-Abrahams noted cyber security is now a priority for many African governments, including South Africa, with many on the continent increasingly mindful of the shared public-private responsibility for cyber security.

“To this end, a growing number of African countries have established, or are in the process of establishing, an enabling policy and legislative environment for cyber security.”

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.

The minister pointed out that while technology introduces greater variety and convenience into lives, it has also opened an avenue for people to be targeted by cyber criminals.

“This 'digital paradox’ means that while governments and organisations can offer more services more quickly than ever before, cyber crime has become a powerful countervailing force that’s limiting that potential.”

The minister explained that ICT applications such as e-government, e-commerce, e-education, e-health and e-environment, which are seen as enablers for development, as they provide an efficient channel to deliver a wide range of basic services, have also become a threat due to cyber crime.

The minister urged delegates at Threat 2019 to actively participate in president Cyril Ramaphosa’s commission on the fourth industrial revolution and advise the government on policies, as well as help develop a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral strategy.

“It will be beneficial to ensure cyber security issues are prominently featured by participating in the technical work streams.

“It is therefore encouraging that this conference, which brings together government, business and academia, presents an opportunity for researchers, industry professionals and government leaders to share ideas and best practice towards enhancing Africa’s cyber security posture.”

The minister’s desire to get business and academia on board comes as business is increasingly under attack, with new research by Mimecast showing 88% of South African organisations experienced a phishing attack in the past 12 months.

Impersonation attacks are reportedly on the rise: eight out of every 10 South African organisations experienced an impersonation attack, with 63% reporting an increase in such attacks.

Some 42% of South African organisations experienced a ransomware attack in the past 12 months, compared to 23% in the prior 12 months.

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