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How Cyber-Attacks Exposed Nigeria’s IT Security Vulnerability In 2023

Official reports of multiple cyber-attacks on both government and private digital infrastructure have exposed Nigeria’s Information and Technology (IT) security vulnerability in the outgoing year, 2023.

According to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NiTDA), Nigeria, S/Africa, Egypt and Kenya lose $2.4bn annually to cybercrime.

NITDA said during the outgoing year, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya accounted for 60% of the $4 billion annual cost of cybercrime in Africa.

During the 2023 general elections, there were reported cases of local and foreign cyber-attacks on the country. Though officials did not say categorically whether some sensitive documents were compromised, experts said billions of naira might have been paid as ransom to hackers.    

In just a space of five days in February this year alone, Nigeria recorded about 13 million cyber-attacks during the presidential and National Assembly elections period. The country became a choice target for cybercriminals as many agencies of government were targeted. 

Attempts were made at government websites and servers, private organisations and individuals’ data and emails by hackers all in the bid to compromise the IT infrastructure and get hold of vital documents. 

The federal government revealed that a total of 12,988,978 cyber-attacks originating from both within and outside Nigeria were recorded in the country. 

The attacks were made on public websites and portals and averaged around 1,550,000 daily, according to the immediate former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami. 

However, Pantami said the attacks skyrocketed to 6,997,277 on presidential election day. 

Again, a total of 3,834,244 cyber-attacks were made against Nigeria during the governorship and state houses of assembly elections period in the country. 

These attacks came just a few weeks after more than 12.9 million internet based criminal attacks were launched on Nigeria during the presidential and National Assembly elections. 

Similarly, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), through its Computer Emergency Readiness and Response Team, sometime in 2023, detected activities of a hacktivist group targeting Nigeria’s vital digital infrastructure.

The hacktivist group, known for its politically and religiously motivated cyber campaigns, posed a significant risk to Nigeria’s critical information infrastructure, NITDA said in an advisory in August.

The organisation said the realization compelled it to recognize the urgency of reinforcing Nigeria’s cyber front, fortifying its digital defenses to shield against the malicious intrusions and secure the safety of the country’s critical information and infrastructure.

A report by a cyber-security solution, Check Point Software Technologies, said Nigeria and other countries had become a choice target for foreign cybercriminals. It added that several public and private organisations had come under cyber-attacks in the continent. 

“The sheer economy of scale offered by mobile devices is incredibly appealing to cybercriminals. They are using every available opportunity to attack individuals and organisations through their mobile devices, including apps, particularly because these devices are so popular and people usually do not take as strict precautions when it comes to securing them as they would with their laptops for example,” Rick Rogers, Regional Director, Africa at Check Point explained.

According to him, it’s no surprise that cyber-attacks are having a major impact on organisations in Nigeria.

Why Nigeria is targeted

“One of the key markets in Africa, Nigeria, is quickly becoming a mobile-first country, with mobile penetration increasing exponentially. And considering the availability of phones at a lower price point, more Nigerians are now able to afford a mobile device,” he said.

Rick said even though major malware like Ransomware, Cryptominer, and banking trojans have had, and continue to have a big impact, it was mobile attacks on Nigerian companies that were growing in prevalence.

An Abuja-based IT expert, Excellence Anurika Joshua, said Nigeria should be many steps ahead of cyber criminals to avoid being overrun by them. 

Joshua, who is the president of Techy-Train Incubator, said though Nigeria’s cyber security is relatively sound, the government should invest more to make it impenetrable by hackers. 

Similarly, Deolu Ogunbanjo said the outrageous number of attacks during the last election speak volumes of our cyber security.

Ogunbanjo, who is the president of National Telecommunications Consumers of Nigeria, said this should make the federal government more proactive in stepping ahead of the cybercriminals. 

A recent report by the Africa Cyber Security Report noted that cyber-attacks in Africa have increased by 300% over the last year alone. Some experts said this trend is particularly worrisome, given that Africa’s digital economy is on the rise.

The World Bank has predicted that Africa’s digital economy could be worth $180 billion by 2025, representing a significant opportunity for growth and development across the continent.

A cyber security expert, Lasisi Majeyegun, said this growth could be severely impeded if businesses and organisations do not take the necessary steps to protect themselves against cyber threats.

Majeyegun said having a robust cyber security strategy could not be overemphasized, and “it is essential to protect the country’s digital infrastructure, businesses and citizens.”

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