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CHALLENGES OF REPORTING CYBER CRIME IN NIGERIAN MEDIA

By NBF News
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UNTIL recently, very little was known about cybercrime in Nigeria, beyond semblances of advanced fee fraud '419' in the Nigerian criminal code. But the advent of the EFCC opened up some of the hidden, often sublime crimes not only against the economy but also against humanity that is entangled and struggling for survival. The EFCC Act of 2004 can also handle and deal with activities of 'yahoo boys.'

While the average victim of 419 sees Nigeria as the hub of this ever heightening scam, the situation has even degenerated to other crimes including threat to life, via the internet, telephone personified by GSM, among others.

Originally, scammers used to deploy their trade through ordinary mails via the various post offices, but by the advent of the Postal and Telecoms Offences Decree in 1996, which empowered post offices and officials of the Task Force to inspect foreign bound mails before allowing them passage, the scammers sensing this moved to neighboring countries in the West Coast to post their letters to potential victims.

Can we describe online publication of classified documents as cyber crime? What do we make out of the disclosure of Wikileaks recently where 251, 287 sensitive diplomatic notes including about 4,598 from Nigeria were leaked. Are newspapers like New York Times, The Guardian of UK, and others that ran the stories guilty of cyber crime? Is this not a spying exercise by the US on its allies? More questions.

The Internet
Then the Internet came, while initials venues for Internet services were basically store and forward platform, the evolution of telecommunications especially after 2001 Digital Mobile Licensing (DMC) round by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) opened up the sector.

Access to telephone became more profound and soon Internet flagged off purely on commercial levels when several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had the political and financial wills to open up for businesses, after due licenses by the NCC.

Besides the ISPs, several fixed wireless operators also joined in the fray and began to offer Internet services. Now GSM operators are in high competition with the ISPs for a pie of Internet users. The number of Internet users has grown from a paltry 100,000 in 2004 to more than seven million now.

Access to computers has also grown and with the reality of blackberry and other modems deployed for Internet connectivity, the number of users will more than double by the end of this year. And with a growing demand for bandwidth by corporate Internet users, several bandwidth providers have begun business in earnest. They include Main One Cable, Glo 1 Submarine and SAT-3 owned by comatose NITEL.

With these, scammers do not need to visit cybercafés for their businesses. From the cozy comfort of their homes, the business thrives and we may never know any victim until they cry out for being defrauded. Nigeria is a passive victim of cybercrime. After Al- Qaeda operative Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan was arrested, Pakistan and American intelligence authority got to know that Al Qaeda was actually deploying some of its terrorist acts via Nigerian based websites and emails. This is linked to impersonation.

I am aware that there was a committee set up several years ago to midwife a bill for presentation to the National Assembly. I am aware that the bill is already there, but its passage is still being awaited. I am also aware that there is a Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) in Africa, which NCC has been mandated to manage. I am also aware that there is a Directorate for Cyber Security (DFC) under the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). But how well all these will respond to cyber crimes remains a big question especially with growing Internet usage and patronage.

While admitting that there is a correlation between cybercrime and other forms of terrorism, espionage and foreign intelligence services without adequate legislation, it will be difficult to report adequately on the subject especially, in a country where there is a terrifying poverty, where nearly 64 per cent of the populace lives under $1 per day, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The American example
Cyber crime bill was passed in the U.S.A in April 2009 to control the scourge and bring criminals to book. While there appears to be an openness in the passage of that bill to check growing fraud in ATM, banking fraud and intelligence espionage by hackers, the bill empowers the agency for CERT, through a National Cyber Alert System, which provides timely information about current security issues and free society from grave vulnerabilities.

While it is also true that the bill requires a new leadership paradigm, through a single voice for cyber security within government that made it mandatory for software vendors like Microsoft to communicate vulnerability data to software users in real time, Americans are not very excited about all of this because they feel it has reduced privacy protection for individuals, but that is how far they can go forgetting that cyber security involves protecting information by preventing, detecting and responding to attacks by hackers. And in Nigeria we are not yet there.

Why cyber crime thrives
419 is a two-way traffic so the laws should deal with both predator and victim, but in a society where there exists unbridled corruption as a way of life, where punishment is negotiated it will be a herculean task to legislate on a crime you know little about, let alone control because of weak internal processes.

Therein lies the dilemma of knowledge as key drivers for productivity, and economic growth. The dilemma of what has been commonly referred to as the Nigerian factor as common as beating traffic light and negotiating with the traffic warden on the way forward.

How for instance do you legislate on text messages sent from my bedroom, an email sent from my office or from one remote village in Niger Delta? How come we hardly know, who, Jomo Gbomo is? Does anybody know the operational base of MEND? But emails emanate from the group from time to time. How do you verify what you have no power to know? There are issues about technology especially for a consumer nation like Nigeria since we are not a party to its creation so can only accept what comes in.

The limitations of the media
About a year ago, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) woke up one morning to notice on its website news items that the agency never generated. The information had gone round to some of the subscribers. Hackers had uploaded an embarrassing news item that was capable of undermining national security. A TV station was shut down for airing the offensive news item. Another newspaper also found on its website blasphemous news item that did not emanate from its stable. These were handiwork of hackers.

In all my years of practice as a reporter of ICT, I have had the challenges of verifying information especially from government officials, who were also handicapped in giving out information for fear of losing their jobs, but now when we talk about cyber crimes it may sound strange to many people because they have limited knowledge of the subject.

Computer literacy
Computer literacy is still very low among public service officials. I advise that the federal, state and local government should make it a deliberate policy to empower officials through ICT training so that the computer is no longer seen as a piece of furniture.

Make e-government a way of life and take Internet to all the nooks and crannies and if they are not sure of how to go about it, they should come to Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) and we will teach them how.

Cyber crime not yet a very big Nigerian problem
Despite the hues and cries, cyber crime is not yet a very big problem in Nigeria, and other African nations. Apart from pockets of 419 related crimes, the issue cannot be said to be life-threatening but it is a scourge all the same.

Threats via GSM networks are real that is why government should expedite action in carrying out the much talked about SIM card registration so that at any given time, Call Detail Records (CDR) of any terrorist act via GSM can be traced.

Government should advise network operators not to activate any new line without adequate data on the owner, because since the Internet is not yet a veritable tool for all, the GSM may well be a ready tool. GSM subscription is growing by the day. By the end of August 2010, digital mobile subscription hit 74 million while mobile CDMA 6.6 million.

While many countries like Estonia, Finland and Spain have declared Internet as a right of its citizenry, Nigeria does not have that kind of law yet. China has more than 420m Internet subscribers, almost three times Nigerian population.

In Korea, Netherlands and Sweden, more than 80% population have access to the internet. 9.6 out of 100 Africans have access to the Internet. Whereas it is 55 (Americas), 65 (Europe), 24.9 Arab states and since less than one percent of Africa's population has access to the Internet, the likelihood of rising cyber crime is remote. Whereas it thrives in countries where there is prevalent Internet connectivity with high speed and high capacity.

The way forward
Only a digital people can think digitally, in order to curtail the likely scourge, government should create an enabling environment for ICT to thrive. We should grow from a mere consumer-based to knowledge-based economy that can withstand and check any threat whether cyber, terrorist or financial.

• Akpore, head, Corporate Communications, NIGCOMSAT Ltd, presented this paper at the first West African Cybercrime Summit (WACCS), hosted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja… recently.