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Telecoms awake to possible cyber threats

STAKEHOLDERS who attended last week’s cyber security conference expressed concern over Zimbabwe’s Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) infrastructure particularly in the telecommunications sector as most of its equipment is brought from China which stands at number one on the global list of hackers.

By Hazel Ndebele

During a question and answer session at the ICT stakeholders questioned telecoms companies on measures they had put to protect their clients’ data from rising cyber threats. The conference was organised by the Ministry of ICT and Cyber Security.

The Chinese have invested a lot in infrastructure and the ICT sector in Africa, including Zimbabwe. During the conference, Vernon Fryer the NEC Africa head of African Cyber Business and Cyber Defence Operation Centre revealed that China is the number one perpetrator of cybercrime in the world, including hacking.

Telecoms companies in Zimbabwe buy a lot of equipment from China. They defended the equipment and said they had put measures to ensure that citizen’s information is safe. The main telecoms companies in Zimbabwe are Econet Zimbabwe, NetOne, Telecel Zimbabwe and TelOne.

Econet’s Head of Information Systems Security and Governance Ephraim Mungadze said; “On the Chinese equipment we have noted the concern but as Econet we have put in place governance processes around our engagement with the Chinese starting from the legal aspect which is the non-disclosure agreement that we have with them.

“On the technology side we have technology to ensure that our data remains safe. We have our internal intelligence system so monitor whatever cyber activity is there and therefore we have visibility. We can tap whatever suspicious activity would be there. The system assists us in terms of detection of any cyber threats. So far we have not had any incident to do with backdoor access by the vendor.”

TelOne Head of Information Systems Initial Mlambo said TelOne has auditors who ensure that their equipment is safe.

“At TelOne we always engage independent auditors who come and audit our equipment and check if it is safe and there are no back doors that are open and can be accessed by vendors. We have many other vendors other than the Chinese. There are vendors from Europe and America so it is important that we are careful and have all of their equipment audited. We also allow these vendors to monitor each other,” said Mlambo.

In January a French newspaper Le Monde reported that anonymous African Union (AU) sources had told the paper that data from computers in the Chinese-built AU building in Ethiopia had been transferred nightly to Chinese servers for five years.

It was alleged that data transfer had been taking place since 2012, when the building, in Addis Ababa, was opened. China has however denied the allegations stating that “people in the West” are not happy about China-Africa relations.

On issues to with identity theft, delegates suggested that Zimbabwe adopts biometric registration for sim cards to avoid identity theft in the telecommunications sector.

“Currently it is so easy to steal someone’s identity and use it for malicious purposes. For instance someone can steal someone’s identity card for sim registration in any of the mobile network operators in the country and use that number to even commit crimes. Therefore we suggest that sim card registration should also be biometric,” a delegate said during the conference.

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