Urgent need to re-up cybersecurity efforts as digital payments gain popularity

A recent report says the earnings of Nigeria’s Deposit Money Banks from digital payment platforms grew by 64% to reach N212.66 billion in 2019. With this current pandemic showing no signs of slowing down and the efforts put in place to achieving social distancing, this number is expected to increase exponentially.

Simply put, the crisis could accelerate the shift to online payments as more services reassess their reliance on face-to-face transactions.

The effect of the virus scare

Medical experts have established that the COVID-19 can remain alive and infectious up to three days on a surface. This increases the chances that whatever surfaces can be touched by many people in a day can be a medium to transmit the virus. For this reason, governments across the world (including in Nigeria) are increasingly encouraging contactless payments, thereby changing the landscape of digital payments and security measures. In Nigeria, logistics and eCommerce companies like Jumia have already switched to contactless payments to minimize risk to employees and customers.

But there is another problem…

While the entire world has gone digital with remote banking, financing, working and learning, there is an urgent need for cybersecurity. Many digital and e-payment platforms have had an incredible increase in demand. Unfortunately, these unexpected spikes in transactions can also overwhelm the systems’ capacity, thereby exposing it to risks.

At this point, the internet could reach a breaking point. A sign to this fact is how Netflix Inc., Alphabet’s YouTube, and Facebook Inc. have all had to reduce their video-streaming quality to avoid broadband congestion.

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning regarding cybercriminals impersonating the WHO in an attempt to steal money/sensitive information. With the increasing number of people using digital platforms, personal Identity Management, VPN, VOIPs, Firewalls, Unified Endpoint Management and other online security measures will be vital in the months to come.

A large number of white-collar workers are mandated to work remotely, thereby putting them at risk of hackers who may try to exploit the anxiety caused by the pandemic. These hackers could access sensitive business data on corporate networks from their devices, or use third-party services to improve their damage scope. People whose devices and software are not secure enough are more susceptible to hackers, who carry out phishing scams and other hacks to get people to give up delicate or vital information

In South Africa for instance, the number of network attacks has spiked along with the rise in Coronavirus cases in that country. The country is usually vulnerable to cyber-attacks and has suffered breaches on different occasions since the past year. However, between March 8 and March 18, network attacks increased from less than 25,000 attacks per day to over 300,000 according to Kaspersky, an internet security company.

With a global outbreak like this comes a wave of misinformation and Nigerians seem to be particularly vulnerable to this. A few years back with the Ebola outbreak, fake news claimed bathing in saltwater cures the disease. Though harmless at first glance, broadcasting fake news at a time when people are desperately in search of answers and information, puts them right in the hands of mischievous people.

The Nigerian police have also warned that criminals are on the loose and ready to take advantage of people’s anxiety to cause havoc online. According to the police, some scammers have created and set up fraudulent eCommerce platforms, websites, social media accounts and emails to defraud victims. A typical scam tries to convince people to buy Coronavirus-related medical products, after which they are then asked to pay via bank transfer, thereby exposing their account details to the criminals.

Others impersonate the government, some with fake donations request letters from the Federal Ministry of Finance taking advantage of the fact that a number of affluent individuals and companies have announced donations for Nigeria’s efforts at controlling the virus. 

It should be noted that the combination of fake news, scams, and cyberattacks could increase during this period according to INTERPOL, a transnational police organization. Therefore, actions must be taken in order to ensure cysecurity.

Why the need to improve on cybersecurity efforts?

  • The dependency on digital infrastructure has multiplied and the internet has almost instantly become the channel for effective human interaction. In today’s unprecedented context, a cyberattack that deprives organizations or individuals access to their devices, data, or the internet could be deadly. In the worst possible scenario, broad-based cyberattacks could cause widespread infrastructure failures that take entire communities or cities offline, thereby obstructing healthcare providers, public systems, and networks.
  • There’s no time as uncertain as the pandemic in which the world is in right now. In a crisis, people tend to make mistakes they normally would not. As such, cybercriminals are extremely creative in devising new ways to exploit users, including new technologies to access passwords, networks and data. They do this by capitalizing on popular topics and trends to tempt users into unsafe online behaviour.
  • More time spent online could lead to users falling for free access to obscure websites or pirated shows. All of these expose them to likely malware and attacks with risks of requests for credit card information or installation of specialized viewing applications.

In the end, the COVID-19 crisis is a human challenge above all else. People are juggling professional responsibilities with important personal ones. It is expected that the coming weeks and months will likely bring more uncertainty. However, potential damage can be curbed if we all implement safe practices as we try to get through these unprecedented times.

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