Cybercrime in Africa: a huge risk with huge opportunities

Cybercrime costs more per year globally than all natural disasters – in fact, it’s now even more profitable than the global drug trade. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime is predicted to cost the world $8 trillion USD in 2023. If it were were measured in terms of a country’s GDP, cybercrime would be the world’s third largest economy after the U.S. and China.

Although cybercrime is a global issue, it’s important to internalise and contextualise it within the African space too, and the consequences it has for local economies on the continent. 

Frustrated cyber-savvy youth who can’t find employment

One of the reasons for the rise of cybercrime in Africa specifically is due to the frustration among the youth who are technologically advanced, highly connected and have access to more online resources than ever before. At the same time, businesses and economies still insist that people have a minimum of three years’ of experience before they’ll employ them. The net effect is that new graduates with strong cyber technology skills don’t have this necessary work experience and so can’t find a job. As a result, they turn to cybercrime as an alternative way of generating revenue and funds using their strong technical skills.

The irony of this scenario is that it’s created a massive skills shortage from a cybersecurity perspective, and so there’s a major opportunity to develop these skills and resources within African businesses.

In light of this, companies and governments need to relook at the old way of operating by challenging this way of thinking. For example, as a young person comes out of the education system, they could be put into a practical learnership role within a company where they can incubate and develop their talents while earning a starter salary in the process. 

Post-pandemic financial difficulty

When an economy is struggling and there’s high unemployment, the crime rate spikes as people do what they can to survive. However, if these people have a certain level of technological skills, they’d rather turn to cybercrime rather than normal crime – after all, it’s less risky and in many cases more lucrative than ‘traditional’ crime.  

This is particularly true over the last three years, where in the wake of the pandemic, many people found themselves worse off financially. They felt frustrated and turned to leveraging technology – and in many cases cybercrime – in order to generate extra revenue.

But with average ransomware demands up by 144 percent, and the average ransoms at R8,5 million, the potential loss to companies from cybercrime is huge. To mitigate this, it’s important for companies to focus more on protecting themselves and make their systems and information more secure, while simultaneously developing new skills and jobs for the tech-savvy youth. 

Technology to leapfrog Africa

Africa has many challenges around things like infrastructure and informal trade, and technology is a way of overcoming these. It allows African businesses to scale up quickly and achieve massive things in a short space of time, serving as an effective way of levelling up to the global economy.

Within the African context, there’s an opportunity to develop the skills and technology among our youth, which can then be exported to other countries as a way of empowering them, their families and the continent as a whole. Overall, this can help us overcome our economic shortcomings, and may even see Africa leapfrogging beyond the global norms.

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