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‘Cyberharam’: Can Nigeria prepare for the next generation of terrorists?

By Tope S. Aladenusi
27 May 2015   |   2:15 am
BOMBS here, bombs there. This was the case in Nigeria a short while ago. Many could not believe that such a thing could happen in a nation where everyone appeared to be peace-loving and hospitable.

boko haram 23BOMBS here, bombs there. This was the case in Nigeria a short while ago. Many could not believe that such a thing could happen in a nation where everyone appeared to be peace-loving and hospitable. It was unheard of that a Nigerian will wrap himself or herself with a bomb and commit suicide in an attempt to kill other people.

The worst we imagined at that time was economic instability as a result of corruption or clashes based on religious doctrines.

Even the Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in July 2014 admitted that the intensity of the Boko Haram crisis in the North East caught the government and the security agencies unaware.

The unfortunate reality is that there is a new type of terror that is brewing and evolving at an alarming speed all around the world; this threat is more sophisticated and can cause exponentially more damage than Boko Haram.

This new generation of terrorism may not be in close combat but will be in cyber space. A director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013 said he expects cyber threats to surpass the terrorism threat that nations will face in the years to come.

The capacity to inflict serious damage from cyber space is not just a marketing gimmick used by security vendors to promote their business, but has now become a well-established trend with occurrences making headlines across the globe.

Of worthy mention is the attack that destroyed centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear facility; we can also recall the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack late last year.

Even in Nigeria, it was reported that the website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was hacked on the day of the 2015 presidential election. These forms of attacks in cyber space, which may be termed “cyber war”, range from simple probes, website defacement, denial of service and espionage, to wide-scale terrorism.

We are seeing significant interest by terrorist organizations in leveraging cyber capabilities to further their cause. For example, the Boko Haram sect gets media attention by leveraging social media. In 2013, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) hacked the Twitter account of a news agency and falsely claimed the White House had been bombed and President Barack Obama was injured.

This led to a $136.5 billion dip on the S&P 500 index that same day. If terrorists are choosing to dedicate so much resources into advancing their knowledge of cyber security, why then should our law-enforcement agents be caught unawares and keep playing catch up?

The same way many never saw Boko Haram coming 15 years ago, we may also be blindsided to the concept of cyber-terrorism on the Nigerian infrastructure. Many mistakes of the past have been laced with statements assuming that such problems can only happen in the western world. For instance, I recently facilitated a cyber-security forum for c-level executives in West Africa where we discussed the report of the possibility to hack into a plane’s control system via the in-flight Wi-Fi system. After much deliberation, one of the participants remarked, “thank God we don’t yet have Wi-Fi in our domestic planes.” I think the emerging threats should not be easily dismissed with such statements. Cyber terrorism knows no borders. The Internet, although very good, may be used as a recruitment tool for terrorists worldwide as has been alleged of ISIS and an evolving weapon in the global distribution of chaos.

Cyber security has now become a key topic amongst government policy makers worldwide and from all indications; it will be a key topic till the end of time. The advent of cyber as a weapon of warfare is rapidly gaining momentum and Nigeria is not immune to such threats. It is only a matter of time before it becomes full blown. In 2012, it was reported that there was a 60% increase in the attacks on Nigerian government websites. We cannot control when the threat will occur but we can control our response to it. We have ample time now to invest massively in cyber-capacity development and embark on deliberate media strategies.0

We are relatively in a time of national Cyber-Peace now and as I recall from an old adage, ‘a soldier prepares for war in time of peace’. Peace should not be a factor to cost us our strength; peace is a time when development and massive investment in cyber security and cyber related matters should become paramount issues.

Aladenusi is a Partner at Deloitte Nigeria and the President of ISACA Lagos Nigeria