While sitting in the comfort of your room, some internet hackers, popularly called Yahoo boys in Nigeria, are probably sitting in the comfort of a cyber cafe prying into your privacy and using your email to scam friends and associates. Cyber-crime is an evil act many Nigerians might not even be aware of. But with emerging ICT trend in Nigeria, cyber-crime is taking a scary dimension. It is indeed the emerging nightmare in the country.
From Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters, to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), every Nigerian security agency is getting increasingly worried with the emerging threat of cyber-crimes in the country. Yet, the public is kept in the dark about how much risk is involved in these crimes.
Many businesses are going online and Nigerians have been encouraged to embrace mobile and internet banking, while the government is also embracing e-payment system. But the question remains; how safe are the users of these services?
Cyber-crimes are defined as offences that are committed using modern telecommunication networks, such as Internet and mobile phones. Such crimes may threaten a nation’s security and financial health of a country. For instance, the cost of global cyber-crime is set at US$110 billion annually.
In Nigeria, email addresses and phones belonging to highly-placed officials, including state governors, have been hacked, just to prove that the hackers are no respecter of status.
It is common place for banks to send accounts information including account balance via short message service (SMS) to mobile phones or emails. While this practice may appear convenient, it brings to bear huge security risks, as sensitive account information can easily get in the wild and harvested by organised criminals to conduct intelligent and sophisticated fraud.
Check shows that Cyber-crimes are in the increase and Nigeria is becoming prone to the emerging ugly trend. In the past, yahoo boys gave Nigeria a bad international reputation with their tricks of sending love messages to potential victims and later duping them of substantial amount. But cyber-crime is a more organised crime and involves billions of naira.
IT experts even warned that Nigerian banks are susceptible to sophisticated attacks, where cyber criminals circulate email scams that deceive people into believing that they are being contacted by their banks to submit their account credentials, such as account number, PIN number, or password.
The contents of these emails always contain a link to a bank’s website, which has been rebadged (copied and modified) by these criminals, often a bank’s website has embedded HTML or URL redirected to a rogue website where people’s account credentials are used to siphon huge sums of money from their accounts and those of other accounts that have been compromised.
These criminals have started to clone debit and credit cards, since most Nigerian banks now offer ATM cards, experts also warned.
There is no gainsaying hackers are becoming more sophisticated. And with the emergence of portable electronic devices (PEDs) such as smartphones, iPhone, Blackberry and iPad, which can now be used to carry out significant financial transactions, and given the ubiquity of smartphone in Nigeria today, cyber-crime would become overwhelming if adequate protection is not provided to ICT systems and networks in Nigerian banks and government systems.
Last Tuesday, ahead of a planned three-day World Cyber Conference aimed at identifying challenges associated with cyberspace, cash-less economy, and space resources; the Defence Headquarters declared that it is set for war against cyber-crimes in Nigeria.
The Chief of Defence Communications, Ndubuisi Amu, told journalists in Abuja that the conference is aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness on the latest development in cyber-crimes and its threats to national security.
The involvement of the defence hierarchy goes to show that indeed Nigeria is under threat of cyber-crime. And for those who have any hesitation of how important cyber-crime is, they were cleared of any doubt when personnel records of former and current operatives of the State Security Service (SSS), including home addresses and names of immediate family members, were leaked on the Internet, along with a message threatening SSS operatives last week.
It was a big embarrassment to the nation’s security, but it confirmed that the Nigerian security needs to be updated in the emerging ICT trend and its security threats. Nigeria does not have a cyber security law yet, despite several promises by the government to pass the law.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) also said it has intensified the war against cyber-crime in the country through the improvement of its type approval process.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah, who made the commitment at a conference on the Regulatory Imperatives for Cybercrime and Cyber Security in Nigeria, admitted that: “The real concern is not just with the dissemination of inaccurate or misleading information, but above all, with malicious content. Fraud, theft and forgery exist online just as they do offline. If users are to benefit from full advantages of the Internet, then confidence in the infrastructure is primary and of utmost importance.”
He also said that “cyber threats such as malware and attacks are becoming extremely sophisticated. This is especially true with the increased presence of organised criminal groups online. The Internet has ceased to the domain of the technically competent.”
In the past, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had raided cybercafes to arrest fraudsters associated with sundry Internet crimes. Recently, the commission said it had arrested 288 persons associated with Internet fraud.
However, experts say fighting cyber-crimes go beyond raiding cybercafés. It requires a holistic approach.
In the last couple of days, more Nigerians say they have had their emails hacked. Recently, the Niger State Governor, Babaginda Aliyu, was shocked to discover that his email account had been hacked, and used to send messages begging for assistance from many of his contacts, proving the saying that “with the yahoo boys, there is no respect of persons.”
The message sent from Gov. Aliyu’s account was: “Urgent assistance.” It read:
“I didn’t tell you about our travel to Spain for a short vacation, but unfortunately, we were robbed at the hotel where we lodged along with other folks. We didn’t bring our phones here and the hotel telephone lines were disconnected during the incident. So, I have access to only e-mail.
“Please, I’m going to need some sort of loan from you for us to relocate to another hotel close to the embassy, and to get us another flight ticket…Please, let me know if you can help us out. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.”
Governor Aliyu denied ever sending such a mail, and described the hackers as “unscrupulous.”
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State was also reported to have recently alerted the public that his phone was hacked by scammers who sent text messages to his cabinet members, urging them to pay an amount of money into a certain Skye Bank account.