The rapid development of Internet access throughout Africa has not been accompanied by an equivalent increase in awareness of security issues, opening up the possibility of a rise in cyberattacks.
With many countries testing 4G broadband technology, an increasing number of Africans are being introduced to the Internet through mobile devices. Most new users are excited and would click on almost anything, oblivious to lurking dangers, according to Mikhail Nagorny, head of Business Development and Security Intelligence Services at Kaspersky Lab.
Nagorny noted that the rate of technology adoption in Africa has outpaced that of Europe.
"Before, cyberattacks did not have an impact," Nargony said. With the rise of high-speed Internet, though, cybercriminals can take advantage of unsuspecting users, he added.
Recent statistics from the Communication Authority of Kenya show that the country has 26.1 million Internet users, and a little more than 16 million of them access the Internet through their mobile phones. In Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, there are 80 million mobile internet users, according to the latest Nigeria Communication Commission report.
"All countries in the world, including Africa, have now the same Internet technology," Kirill Kertsenbaum, head of Global Presales Management at Kaspersky explained. "So this has made the threat landscape the same across the globe." The difference among regions mainly lies in the number of users accessing the Internet, he said.
Kertsenbaum said that financial institutions and governments are the most targeted entities in Africa.
The development of mobile money across the continent by telecom companies coupled with the increasing penetration of the Internet means telecom companies are also in danger.
Last week, Safaricom, the leading telecom company in Kenya and East Africa, cracked down on cybercriminals who had electronically stolen airtime from their systems and sold it to 10,000 users at half price. Business Daily Africa reports that the suspect, Alex Mutuku, as well as the 10,000 subscribers, could be charged with handling stolen property.
Kaspersky's Cyber Security Report 2014 for Kenya highlighted the developments of security flaws around mobile banking and mobile money services.
"The continued adoption of online and mobile banking services is leading to new threats for customers and local financial institutions. Many financial institutions are introducing vulnerable Web and mobile applications," the report said.
The report added that, "In a recent study we sampled 33 online banking portals. Out of the 33 banking applications sampled, only 2 banking portals had adequate online security deployed on their Web application. The majority of the Web applications reviewed lack of strong encryption and are susceptible to phishing attacks."
Kertsenbaum said that the report has elicited interest from telecom companies. Kaspersky is working with a few of them in Africa, he said. Among other things, the company is in discussions with mobile operators in Kenya to discuss how to protect users, he added.
Nagorny added that apart from educating users on mobile phone protection, telecom companies can also consider adding more layers of protection over their infrastructure. He urged governments and private companies to deploy regular training for their IT departments.