Nigeria: Growing Menace of Cybercrime

By IndepthAfrica
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Sep 20th, 2012
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Thisday

The absence of an enabling legislation on Nigeria’s cyberspace has continued to increase concerns over online safety, dwindling consumer confidence in e-commerce and other online financial transactions, writes Amaka Eze

Now that the internet has gone fully commercial, affordable and mostly accessible, cases of cybercrime are on the increase. A number of institutions, particularly internet banking and other online transactions, have become targets of cyber criminals, with varying degrees of success.

Dubious persons send scam email messages to victims requesting information like login accounts and passwords amongst others in order to defraud the unsuspecting preys. Theft of identity, spamming, unauthorised access, cyber bullying, cyber stalking, amongst others, are some of the rampant cases of cybercrimes in Nigeria today.

As the country integrates electronic payment system into its financial institution; a step that is expected to accelerate the nation’s e-commerce growth, the negative impact of cybercrime on businesses, and the absence of appropriate laws to guarantee the legality of online transactions, continue to create fear in the mind of users and potential online users.

Although Nigerians e-commerce have grown steadily, the lack of legislation that specifically targets cybercrime or cyber security have continually hampered its accelerated growth; and the concerns raised by such nefarious activities, no doubt, calls for legal intervention.

The need for a cybercrime law in the country therefore, cannot be over-emphasised. Recent studies have shown that people are more likely to engage in offensive or illegal behaviour online because of the perception of anonymity, thus cybercriminals exploit the rights and privileges of a free society, including anonymity.

According to a publication on “Understanding Cybercrime” on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) website: “The adoption by all countries of appropriate legislation against the misuse of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), for criminal or other purposes, including activities intended to affect the integrity of national critical information infrastructures, is central to achieving global cyber security.

The publication further stated that since threats could originate anywhere around the globe, the challenges are inherently international in scope thus requires international cooperation, investigative assistance, and common substantive and procedural provisions.

Recent Government’s Effort

In 2004, the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, formed a cybercrime committee – a 15-member committee consisting of representatives from the government and private sector and tasked them with designing solutions for Nigerian internet-based fraud and cybercrime.

The committee then formed the Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group (NCWG), and after several months of hard work and determination, presented a ‘Draft Nigerian Cybercrime Act’ to the President. The bill passed the first reading in the Nigerian National Assembly but the committee later crumbled the bill and it died.

Seven years after, dangers posed by cybercriminals are on the increase, thus internet users, experts and other stakeholders are calling for a revisit of the bill, to create an enabling Law, to deal with cybercrime and cyber security.

User’s Opinion

Although a lot of people have become bolder and wiser when it comes to using the internet, THISDAY checks revealed that, a lot of people are still very skeptical, and would rather have nothing to do with the internet, and other internet-related activities.

Mr. Cletus Ogagbe, an internet user, stated that he used common sense to keep out of trouble and prevent him from becoming a victim of cybercrime whenever he went online.

Ogagbe stated that he treaded as carefully as someone who has left his comfort zone, and walked into an unknown city, wary of speeding motorists that could harm him.

He added: “As we integrate the electronic payment system into our financial institute, it is only necessary that we tread with caution whenever we transact any online business,” he said.

A computer analyst at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Mr. Ernest Demtoe, also stated that the outcome of an absence of a law was that more people would take extra precautions to prevent themselves from becoming victims.

He however stated that there would always be many who would fail to use common sense even when it is not on issues relating to cyberspace. “People will still send their bank details to strangers, or leave their passwords on the device screen, just as they will leave their door keys under the flower pot outside the door or on the windowsill,” he said.

Demtoe however explained that some crimes could easily be prevented with better implementation of technology. “Ignoring emails requesting passwords, and updating anti-virus, can help deter some risk of identity theft, spamming, among others,” he added.

Absence of Legislation

In a chat with THISDAY, President of Information Security Society of Africa, Nigeria (ISSAN), and member of the Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group (NCWG), which drafted the first bill on Nigerian Cybercrime Act, Mr. David Isiavwe, decried the non-existent of a cyber-law in Nigeria today.

According to Isiavwe: “All stakeholders including the average university student; secondary and primary school pupils; the employers of labour as well as employees in public and private sectors, financial institutions, telecoms operators and other organisations in the country must know that cybercrime is real.

“The threat is one that cannot be wished away. When there is no law, there is no transgression. If hacking into a man’s system is not regarded as a crime, then people will scam and cheat people without fear.”

Calling on corporate entities and individuals to take basic preventive measures when accessing the internet, he said: “Everywhere there are people who have access to the internet; there is the likelihood that someone would want to get smart. It is more prevalent than we know in this part of the world due to lack of monitoring and reporting facilities amongst others.”

The ISSAN boss, who called for public enlightenment in the absence of an enabling law to protect online users said: “The first thing we must do, is to increase the awareness of the general public. Once we have achieved the desired level of awareness, we will be able to reduce the success rate of cyber thieves in the society.

Isiavwe also stressed that there is no such thing as full security, but said effort could be put in place to checkmate criminals. “We can achieve reasonable security that will prevent or deter attacks. When attacks however occur successfully, the controls that exist should be such that the attack can be detected promptly and the resultant damage mitigated.

ISSAN, he added, was also liaising with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the bill receive accelerated hearing and was passed speedily to help safeguard the cyberspace in Nigeria. “When the proposed cybercrime bill is eventually passed by the National Assembly, we expect to see speedy prosecution of cybercrime related cases,” he said.

President, Associations of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, had in a recent forum on in Lagos, said the growing wave of cybercrimes in the country without much effort from the government to pass into law, pending bills aimed at criminalising the acts, has been identified as a major drawback to the development of e-commerce in Nigeria.

Ajayi, who described the delay being faced by some cybercrime-related bills in the National Assembly as uncalled-for, said it was important that cybercrimes be put under control if e-Commerce and other online transactions must thrive in the country.

He noted that facilitating electronic payment transactions as being driven by the Central Bank of Nigeria in collaboration with the banks as well as boosting the overall e-commerce in the country would require the government to enact appropriate laws to criminalise some bad online behaviour while embarking on massive campaign on how to use the Internet as tool for job and wealth creation as alternative to online scam and cybercrime, and maintained that increasing shift of commerce to the Internet had been the trend in many part of the world.

A legal expert in electronic business transactions, Mr. Nnaemeka Ewelukwa, in a chat with THISDAY recently, also described the non-passage of the cybercrime bill as very unfortunate.

According to Ewelukwa, who lamented the failure of up to six bills dealing with computer misuse and cybercrime from becoming law in the country, emphasised that the non-passage of the bill would continue to affect people’s confidence to enter into business transactions especially when it has to do with online transactions.

He said: “Confidence is usually hinged on trust, and the trust element becomes even more critical where one wants to transact business online due to the faceless nature of the virtual market,” he said.

He reiterated that, offences like computer hacking, spamming, online identity theft, and ordering goods electronically using skimmed credit or debit cards were not punishable under Nigerian law and this is likely to seriously dampen interest in ecommerce.”

He urged users to take the precautionary measure of verifying the integrity of any company or person before engaging in electronic transactions with them. This, according to him, could be done for instance by phoning or visiting the company or checking with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to see whether they have any adverse information regarding the company.

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