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Public agencies should do more to secure cyber space

By Ng'ang'a Mbugua
Friday, February 12th, 2021
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In summary

With many businesses adopting digital platforms and more workers going online, revelations of a massive jump in cyber attack cases should be cause for worry – amplifying the need for relevant government agencies and digital security experts, to do more to make cyberspace safer for businesses and individuals.

In recent months, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has signaled its intention to tax online businesses, meaning that it – just as other government agencies – has seen the critical role that cyber space plays in creating jobs, generating revenue and powering economic growth. 

If the government is looking at this new frontier as a source of revenue and high quality jobs, then it must feel obligated to put in place systems and policies that will enhance protection of digital businesses from malevolent attacks.

A first and easily executable move would be for investigative and policing agencies, to zero in on suspects carrying out such attacks within Kenya and – working with prosecutors and courts – make an example of those found to be perpetuating digital fraud, especially malicious damage to digital property.

Given that it is easy to identify IP addresses of computers used to hack websites and commit other digital crimes, there is really no reason why police should not be seen to be doing more, if only to send a message that its officers are alert, vigilant and alive to threats posed by cyber criminals.

The danger with sitting back and doing nothing, is that this will embolden criminals to target even more sensitive digital installations and assets, which comes with the compounded risk of exposing sensitive data. 

This is a risk that US President Joe Biden has been more than keen to address, aware that those behind them are a danger, not only to businesses but to national security.

Relevant authorities here need to take a cue and raise their game too, as there is no reason why Kenya – which has made major strides as a digital leader in Africa – cannot show its counterparts how to protect digital frontiers.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, risks of data breaches have increased as more companies and businesses ask their employees to work from home due to the pandemic.

This has in turn increased vulnerability points for both businesses and their customers, hence the need to act now – and act decisively and relentlessly; to ensure that this important sub-sector is ring-fenced from malware attacks and other criminal breaches.

Then, when agencies like KRA come knocking to demand taxes, those who run such businesses will not have any reason to raise questions about what government is doing to protect them, given that willingness to pay taxes goes hand-in-glove with a corresponding perception that government is playing its part to oil the wheels of the economy.

Kenya has a unique opportunity to be a leader on this front in Africa given the growing number of local and global e-commerce companies either interested in doing business here or which have already set up shop locally but are looking for more than assurances that their businesses will have a level playing ground and a fair shot at being facilitated to thrive.

Of course, measures taken to make cyber space safer are not just good for business.

They will, ultimately, be beneficial to all users, including individuals, particularly children. 

With digital gadgets playing an increasingly critical role in facilitating learning, it will be imperative to ensure that children are shielded from digital harm, including bullying, which has emerged as a serious social and cyber problem.

Similarly, more citizens are finding it necessary to conduct even simple day to day transactions, digitally in line with government directives to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

That means ordinary Kenyans, will need to be educated on data protection and their security in digisphere.

This is a role that only government can play. If not, it can consider outsourcing this service because, as I have already argued, citizens who feel that government is looking out for them are likely to have higher levels of tax compliance. 

Taxation aside, every citizen going online needs an assurance that agencies have done their job in securing that space, so that both private and corporate citizens can engage in their businesses in peace.

—The writer is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford — [email protected]

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