Making the Internet safer in Nigeria
The Internet world is like a city, jam-packed with information and resources worthy of the finest museums, but with menace for the unwary.
Since its discovery, the Internet has moved beyond an educational and research tool that served as a social network for a few elites, it has been transformed into a commerce hub. While it has enabled borderless communications, the Internet has equally made lots of people, including adults, vulnerable to different vices.
While it presents a world of opportunities for children and adolescents, it also threatens communities with inappropriate content, cyber bullying among peers, and online predators – whether that is via connection to the Internet at home, in a cybercafé, or by Smartphone.
Indeed, the development of the Internet has created a communication medium that exists apart from the confines and structure of the ‘real world’. While children and adolescents relish the freedom that the Internet and online anonymity can bring, it also carries with it hidden dangers, like sexual predators and the threat of cyber bullying.
With the growth of global e-commerce, an ever-increasing number of people are becoming more comfortable with making monetary transactions online. This has naturally led to the expansion of online criminal activity or cybercrime.
Some methods of Internet attacks
Cybercrime began as a job perpetrated by those with functional inside knowledge of businesses but has transformed into an anonymous attack often backed by organized crime.
Recent statistics from the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) showed that there has been a moderate shift of fraud attempts towards mobile and web channels year-on-year (YoY), in the country.
NIBSS disclosed that the total number of attempts as at Q3 (January to September) grew by 186 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Expectedly, fraud attempts via mobile channels saw a 330 per cent increase YoY, while attempts via web and PoS channels saw 173 per cent and 215 per cent increase YoY.
Indeed, there are different means for cybercriminals to perpetuate their agendas, including spam, malware and phishing scams.
Spam describes unsolicited electronic messages sent in bulk. Spam is most frequently seen as
e-mail but is increasingly being employed via short message service (SMS) or text message, computer instant message (IM), and telephone. Spam e-mails often direct the recipient to an external website, but they can as serve as a vehicle for malware dissemination or phishing scams. Spam messages are inefficient, but low-risk means for perpetrating cybercrime.
Malware is the term for the “broad range of software” with “malicious or fraudulent intent”. Examples
of malware include computer viruses, dishonest adware, spyware, scareware, Trojan horses, and worms.
In a recent report, MessageLabs Intelligence calculated that one in every 290 e-mails worldwide contained some form of malware. The highest levels of malware were detected in South Africa, with one in every 81.8 e-mails containing malware.
Phishing scams involve e-mail messages that falsely claim to be from an established, legitimate business or organization but are designed to steal an identity. These e-mails either ask the recipient to send their private information, such as passwords, bank account numbers, medical insurance registry numbers, and credit card details, via e-mail or direct the recipient to a web site where they are duped into providing these data.
Just like a fisherman, the cybercriminals throw out their e-mails like bait, knowing that while most will ignore their message, some will be tricked into biting.
Internet security is a collective responsibility. The Internet remains one of the most effective ways to reach more people online across several demographics.
Global Efforts at Protecting Users
Marking this year’s Safer Internet Day, which is usually February 9, technology giant, Google announced many initiatives across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, targeted at keeping children, young people and families safe online.
Aligning with the theme of this year’s global Safer Internet Day, “Together for a better Internet”, Google teamed up with several organisations across the continent to boost education efforts and develop programmes around online safety.
Country Director, Google Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan, said: “With an estimated 346 million Internet users that came online for the first time in the last year, and 376 million new social media users, there is no better time for us to help people stay safe online.
“We are working with nonprofits and social enterprises to advance their work through Google.org’s Africa Online Safety Fund, while also working with educational institutions and governments across sub-Saharan Africa in order to have a greater impact.”
Administered as part of the Africa Online Safety Fund, Google.org gave a grant to Impact Amplifier and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, to run an open call across the continent to find the most innovative and impactful nonprofit organisations operating in this space.
It explained that 26 social impact organisations across nine African countries have been selected to receive grants of up to $100,000 each. The five selected in Nigeria include Epower, LagosMums, Velma Foundation, Hive Creative Guild and Teens Can Code. This funding will be used to boost projects that work to combat online vulnerabilities, disinformation and extremism aimed at children, the youth, families, schools and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Local Efforts by the NCC
In marking the Africa Safer Internet Day 2021, with the theme “Positioning and Partnering for Child Online Protection”, Nigeria’s Communications Commission (NCC) representatives visited secondary schools in Abuja and Lagos to sensitise and educate students, on how they can use the Internet productively, avoid being victims of all forms of cybercrime, and deal with cases of cyber bullying.
The schools include Model Secondary School, and Government Science Secondary School, both in Maitama, Abuja; and Kuramo Junior College and Victoria Island Junior Secondary School, both in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Addressing some of the students of Government Science Secondary School, Abuja, Deputy Director, New Media and Information Security at NCC, Tokunbo Oyeleye, stated that this year’s theme was in sync with one of the focus areas of NCC for child online protection, noting that the Commission constantly sensitises young Nigerians on cybersecurity and its applications.
“We are here, as NCC representatives, to educate you, the younger generation of Internet users on what you need to know to keep safe while online as part of our efforts to ensure child online protection in our country in the use of Information and Communication Technology,” Oyeleye said.
She further explained that the concern over child online protection should not be limited to arresting the perpetrators, but should be more of providing education and counselling that may assist in minimising the harm on younger Internet users.
Meanwhile, at the Lagos event, Controller, NCC Lagos Zonal Office, Nkechi Obiekwe, said the protection and safety of children while they access the internet is a shared responsibility. She added that internet penetration permeates every aspect of life and adoption of the internet presents learning opportunities.
Earlier, in a presentation, Chioma Ibe, a Principal Manager in NCC, spoke on cyber bullying and signs to watch out for. She also highlighted ways to resist online bullying and the importance of reporting cases of cyberbullying to relevant authorities.
“Online bullying can have a devastating impact on young people, whose online life is a key part of their identity and how they interact socially. Cyberbullying takes many forms, such as sending abusive messages, hurtful images or videos, nasty online gossip, excluding or humiliating others or creating fake accounts in someone’s name to trick or humiliate them,” Ibe said.
Also contributing to the discussion, Chukwuemeka Monyei, the Executive Director, Like-a-Palm-Tree Foundation, educated the students on how to mute conversation with, unfollow, block, and report anybody who engages in an act of cyberbullying toward them as a way of protecting themselves.
Oyeleye urged the students to share the knowledge they have gained during the programme with their friends and relatives towards ensuring a safer Internet for all.