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The evolving threat of cybercrime, SIM swaps in Africa

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By Victor MUJIDU

Africa is facing a growing threat from cybercrimes and sim swap attacks, with many countries in the region experiencing a significant increase in cases of identity theft, online fraud, and other cyber-related crimes.

Online businesses continue to face these challenges including forgeries, and a lack of uniformity.

According to a survey by iIdentifii, an estimated 93 per cent of mobile banking fraud cases in 2021 were SIM swap – related, while 36 per stemmed from banking app and 264 per cent increase were cases of impersonation attacks recorded in the fist five months of 2022 compared to a similar period a year earlier.

According to the report, the number of incidents involving SIM swaps increased from 2 686 incidents in 2020 to 4 386 reported in 2021. The SIM swap fraud has negatively impacted trust between mobile users and their mobile providers due to the substantial volume of data in their possession.

This overrides all the usual biometric protections in place, as the victim is forced to use their defining biometrics to log into and drain their own bank account.

Criminals are operating under different syndicates, either targeting specific business owners or conducting attacks that are more opportunistic in nature.

In response to this growing threat, the African Union has launched the Africa Cybersecurity Strategy, which aims to strengthen the region’s cybersecurity capabilities and enhance cooperation among member states.

One key solution to addressing Africa’s cybercrime and sim swap threats is the implementation of an Identity Verification (IDV) system.

IDV is a process of verifying the identity of individuals through various means such as biometrics, document verification, and knowledge-based verification. By implementing a robust IDV system, African countries can effectively combat cybercrimes and sim swap attacks by ensuring that individuals are who they claim to be when conducting online transactions or accessing digital services.

IDV can be used to verify the identity of individuals during online account registration, login, and transactions, thereby reducing the risk of identity theft and fraud.

By requiring individuals to undergo identity verification before accessing digital services, companies and financial institutions can prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information and assets, as well as detect and mitigate suspicious activities in real-time.

Moreover, IDV can also help prevent sim swap attacks, a common method used by cybercriminals to hijack individuals’ phone numbers and gain access to their sensitive information.

By implementing multi-factor authentication mechanisms that include IDV, African countries can enhance the security of their telecommunications networks and prevent sim swap attacks from occurring.

It is essential for African governments, businesses, and individuals to prioritize cybersecurity and adopt robust IDV measures to secure the digital future of the region.

With the practice of IDV (identity verification) processes, individuals will be able to access their historical data, emphasizing a thorough understanding of their digital footprint.

The IDV (Identity Verification) providers will have to focus on relevant, diverse algorithms that counteract bias and accessible, enterprise-grade technology that stands up to rapid expansion and constantly evolving security threats.

This will have a potentially positive impact on safety, secure digital identity, and hold the potential to revolutionize elections, financial services, and overall economic inclusion on the continent.

Remedy

An inclusive digital identity approach can open doors to critical government services such as labour markets, government benefits, and financial services without the risk of impersonation or fraudulent funding. This extends to those with limited ability to engage in the digital world.

The insights from the report indicate that a group of the 19 most advanced economies in the world, the European Union, and most recently the African Union, the G20, published a policy guide in partnership with the World Bank advocating for the development and deployment of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to advance financial inclusion and productivity gains in the Global South.

IDV providers have an important role to play in the implementation of an inclusive DPI, as a safe and robust digital identity will enable citizens to access such systems.

Meanwhile, the effect of inclusive biometric identity is already being felt. According to an academic study on migrants from five central and west African countries seeking refuge in Nigeria, biometric identification is among the four aspects fueling migrant instrumentalization, especially for election purposes.

Quite a number of African countries have already taken a step in embracing biometric technology as a step in building robust digital solutions that are crucial for the development of African countries, particularly in bringing about a fair democratic election.

Countries such as Zimbabwe and Liberia have adopted biometrics for their upcoming elections, and countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Namibia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are all actively implementing or planning to implement biometric authentication programmes across the country.

Biometric identity provides long-term benefits in terms of financial inclusion, improved governance, and investment in human capital, as they promote and enable access to financial services for the poor as well as education and social protection programs.

As biometrics becomes an influential technology across the continent, there will be an increasing need for the design of robust governance frameworks.

The greatest challenge lies in developing these frameworks at the same pace as the widespread rollout and evolution of digital identity systems.

These systems need to be inclusive, trustworthy, and reliable, as well as involving both public and private sector stakeholders.

In conclusion, the implementation of an Identity Verification system is crucial to addressing Africa’s cybercrime and sim swap threats.

By utilizing IDV technologies and practices, African countries can strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities, protect their citizens from online fraud and identity theft, and safeguard their telecommunications networks from sim swap attacks.

 

 

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