Cyber security, a daunting story

Cybercrime and its counterpart, cyber security, is an ever growing story and one of great relevance to us in Botswana and the World. Cyber security is a daunting story to cover we acknowledge this.

It touches intimately on many great questions, of governance, or regulation, of socio-economic development, of transparency, or legislation and a challenging crime fighting scenario that recognises no borders.

Few of our journalists have a background in cyber security. Many may be daunted by the jargon, by the idea that the subject matter is technical and may not appeal to all audiences.

It is our desire to help them overcome any such concerns. What we would like today is to discuss with you how we can help your brightest and your best journalists to grapple with the issues and bring their great skills to bear to make this topic – with its opportunities and risks – part of the national conversation.

And moreover it is a story that needs to become part of the public discourse. It is only by doing this that people can begin to realise that in learning to use digital technologies, they need to do so responsibly, and that they respond critically to what comes across their screens.

Digitalization is one of the most powerful tools for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Africa’s Agenda 2063 and our own vision 2036 aspirations. As we know, uptake of ICTs and consumption of digital services have increased over the years, by the look of things it will continue to rise very significantly in the coming years. We applaud the Government of Botswana for embracing technology to interact with citizens and ensure universal access to ICTs and provide an enabling ICT environment to both citizens, the private sector and businesses to thrive.

Botswana internet penetration has increased tremendously over the years with especially younger generations having access online.

In addition to internet connections, village connectivity projects is about to be launched. More villages will be connected with high speed internet connectivity through Smart Botswana initiatives in the near future. Wifi-hotspots have also been launched across the country giving rise to greater connectivity in particular among young people. Mindful of the need to ensure that no one is left behind and putting the benefits of overall socio economic impact of digital transformation over profitability, the government has provided access, too, to rural and remote areas through the Universal Access Fund . Digital transformation represents opportunities for our citizens, in the form of better access to a competitive job market for our youth, more opportunities for digital companies to be successful, and finally better and more efficient public services through e-governance, online education or research collaboration.

The digital transformation is envisaged to stimulate the development of a business ecosystem, provide employment opportunities and increase the value chain that is so necessary for us to reach a high-income status economy.

By 2025, the consultancy company Mc Kinsey believes the ecommerce market in Africa will be worth 75 billion USD.

They also believe it will result in increases in productivity worth 300 billion USD per annum.

The internet has become a critical inevitability for a countless reasons. However, we are also mindful of the risks. Whilst the digital sector enhance opportunities to greatly improve citizens’ lives in Botswana, there are risks associated.

Cyber-attacks are a growing phenomenon that can disrupt not only businesses or personal systems but also affect the national critical ICT infrastructure such as the supply of water, electricity and Government applications.

Businesses, banks, utility services, critical national infrastructure, and government agencies - all rely on IT systems to provide a flow of information that enables fast delivery of services across national and international territories. But these, and even our personal social media systems and smart phone applications and operating systems, leave us more vulnerable to cyber-attack.

It is quite disturbing that Batswana continues to fall prey to cyber fraud and theft.

We do acknowledge that most cybercrimes stem from poorly secured online shopping platforms, digital financial services, malware-infected mobile phones and lack of awareness on cybersecurity.

Studies continue to reveal that many organizations, businesses, and agencies still lack basic cyber awareness and fail to implement rudimentary cybersecurity measures.

Africa has a 100,000 person gap in certified cybersecurity professionals – an important opportunity by the way.

At a higher level, cyber crime is a threat to our national security, while the lack of basic technical knowledge of many Batswana make them tempting targets.

Administrations, Banks and critical infrastructure are also being targeted, by rogue actors and organised groups alike. Moreover, digital technologies can also be harmful to human rights and democracy if misused, for example through cybercrime or disinformation campaigns and hate speech.

It is because of the desire to mitigate the risk and develop a culture of cyber security that will help protect us all, that Botswana was one of the first few African countries to develop a national cyber security strategy – to protect out national critical infrastructure and much more. This lays out strategic objectives and assigns government-wide responsibilities for cyber threat monitoring and response. The Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Transport and Communications, BOCRA and other strategic partners are working to develop national cyber security capacities. It is also working with national stakeholders to further develop skills, knowledge and resilience by concentrating on developing policies to strengthen cyber security strategies and systems as well as training - increasing the capacity to respond to breaches in cyber security.

Digital rights, which are essential to safeguarding citizen security, must be respected and legislation is being put in place to ensure this.

The development of a reputation for strong cyber resilience is also one that will go a long way to attracting foreign investment.

But for a Botswana to become cyber resilient, all must play a part. In other words, cyber security is a story that impacts all your audiences: village leaders, students, youth, the business community, banks, utility companies, civil servants, or government leaders etc.

What is needed is a multi-stakeholder arrangement that involves academia, financial institutions, computer incidence response teams, telecommunication companies, schools and universities, the government and other relevant stakeholders, including you, the media. You are a very critical stakeholder in this journey of cybersecurity awareness.

Oshinka Tsiang* is the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Information and Broadcasting during the Cyber awareness workshop for Media Managers.

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