THERE has been an increase in cybercrime in the financial and medical sectors in Zimbabwe while the use of pirated software has also been on the rise. Cyber security concerns were raised at a cyber security conference organised by the Ministry Information Technology and Cyber Security in Harare last week. Zimbabwe Independent reporter Hazel Ndebele (HN) caught up with NEC Africa (Technology and Solutions company) head of African Cyber Business and Cyber Defence Operation Centre Vernon Fryer (VF) who is also former Vodacom South Africa Group Chief Technology Security Officer, on the sidelines of the conference to discuss these and other issues. Find excerpts of the interview below.
HN: You have more than 44 years experience in the cyber business, where can you place Africa in terms of cyber security? Are we safe on the internet?
VF: In terms of cyber security in Africa, we have seen a major acceleration in maturity of countries in Southern Africa which are going full out to put mechanisms, legislation guidelines and strategies to fight the onslaught of cyber-attacks against the African continent. The acceleration has been noted for the last 10 years and some countries are now really pushing for instance Zimbabwe has taken some major strides in preparing cyber strategies, creating awareness among the community which is a very good thing. This shows that the maturity of Zimbabwean people in terms of technology and security awareness is much higher than a lot of other African countries.
HN: Where can you place Zimbabwe in terms of cyber security? What needs to be done to improve security issues?
VF: Zimbabwe seats at number 134 most attacked countries in the world and in the threat landscape. Your government is already investing in cyber security but private sector should also know the dangers of cyber crime and begin to invest in security. The other important thing we can do is to create more awareness by using the media more often, provide some cyber awareness training at our schools to start teaching the young people the dangers of the use of social media activities and so forth. The other important thing I need to make is that if you are aware of a cybercrime incident that took place, report it! A lot of organisations are not reporting the incidents.
HN: We have heard that the medical field in Zimbabwe has been the most targeted in terms of cybercrime in Zimbabwe, which other sectors are facing cyber-attacks?
VF: Well the two major ones in Zimbabwe are the medical field as well as the financial sector. There has been an increase of the card frauds in the financial sector. These are the top two because these attackers are usually after people’s information and obviously you can get that from those sectors resulting in cases such as identity theft. Other sectors are tourism, and in small medium sized enterprises which do not have a lot of money to spend on cyber security.
HN: You mentioned during your presentation that Zimbabwe was chosen to be one of the countries which will have the Interpol cyber centre. Please explain what this is and why Zimbabwe was chosen for it as well as how it will help the country?
VF: One reason why Zimbabwe was chosen for the cyber centre for Interpol is because it is the regional Interpol for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc); it is the Sadc headquarters for Interpol. The cyber fusion centre is the main centre of Interpol which is in Singapore and provides the global threat intelligence to the regional offices and which the regional offices then provide that intelligence to the surrounding countries. The other important thing to take note of at this point of time is that Zimbabwe is showing lots of interest and commitment towards fighting cybercrime and that is why I believe that it is important to support governments on their initiatives.
The main purpose of the centre is the gathering of criminal cyber intelligence which can be shared with law enforcement communities and also to create awareness among the general public. The cyber centre will also have capabilities to have leading edge digital forensic equipment at a disposal to help investigating officers at scenes of crime to investigate the evidence digitally.
HN: Since you specialise in Cyber Security issues in Africa, do you have an estimate of how many websites have been hacked in Zimbabwe?
VF: For the last couple of weeks they were 25 but then there is obviously much more than that.
HN: Do you mind sharing with us the countries in which these hackers are from?
VF: The most attacks that we have seen in Zimbabwe are done by Zimbabweans and there is a large portion which is coming from the United Kingdom (UK) but that does not mean it is the UK people committing those crimes but it is the UK IP addresses which would be used for attacks. So it could even be someone from Zimbabwe using that IP address.
HN: Which country in the world perpetrates most cyber-attacks or hacking?
VF: Globally, China is at number one.
HN: How else can governments protect its citizens from these attacks?
VF: Governments can protect its citizens by preparing the legislation, deploying a cyber strategy which the Zimbabwean government is already preparing and the last one is creating awareness.
HN: What is your view on Zimbabwe’s legislation on cybercrime?
VF: Well the current legislation needs to be revised because of the new strategy and to take into cognisance the ever evolving technology.
HN: During the conference we heard that Zimbabwe has 90% pirated software and that most African countries use pirated software. What do you think is the reason for this and what should be done to reduce this huge number?
VF: If you take a look at many African countries is that we are becoming more available to technology but one has to take into consideration that a lot of Africans live on a very borderline salary so we are not well developed in terms of financial support to acquire software and that is why I believe that we see such a high percentage of software because it is for free. However it is not right because the manufacturers of that software lose revenue, although those are multi-million dollar organisations. Pirate software is nothing new because the music industry has suffered pirate music, in the old days I remember we would buy a tape and we would copy it to all our friends and they will have the same music. I do not think we are going to see a reduction of piracy, I just think that because more people are getting access to technology, it is also helping them grow about getting access to some software although it is pirated software.
HN: What are the dangers of using pirated software?
VF: The dangers of pirated software is that in some cases you do not know where it comes from so they could have malicious back-doors and spyware built into the software which could steal your credentials or banking details, it is very dangerous as the source would be unknown.
I think the most important thing which came out in today’s conference is to create awareness to the community as to what the dangers of using pirated software are. It is not only pirated software which is dangerous but also free ware apps, so friends would show you cool apps on their mobile device which they downloaded but you do not know what those apps are doing at the background.
These free wares for instance will use up your battery quick and when an analysis is done, those free wares would be using your content in the phone like uploading pictures, your contact details, text messages and so forth which just shows that free ware is also very dangerous.