With criminals and radical group’s making great strides via the web, there is a drastic need for South Africa to up its focus on cyber security, according to a cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism expert. The issue has made its way to the fore after government this week confirmed a second case in which a young Capetonian girl has attempted to join ranks with ISIS in Syria. As with the first incident, the teen is thought to have been persuaded to link up with the radical group after interactions with ISIS recruitment agents on social media.
Those incidents have brought about concerns that the country’s own online surveillance initiatives are far below what is required to address any potential terrorist threats that may arise.
Whilst social media has been their obvious target, many criminals and radicals are believed to be migrating from the more traditional platforms towards a far more secretive and hidden ‘darkweb’. Managing director of WolfPack Risk, Craig Rosewarne explained that this was an entirely different space on the internet than what most users were accustomed to.
According to statistics, the more common websites and search engines used on a daily basis amount to no more than 10% of what constitutes the internet. A substantial portion of the rest compromises the so called ‘dark side of the internet’.
“For them to root out the individuals, they will still use traditional social media and other very influencing communication streams. When communicating and sharing information amongst themselves however, they know the more popular sites are being monitored by law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” he said.
To tackle this on a local front, there have been increased calls for more focus into cyber security. Whilst government has signalled its intent in this regard, Rosewarne suggested the move may have come far too late. Despite this, he did recognise the positive strides made on their part in recent months.
“I must be honest though, in the last six months we have seen a surge in strategic initiatives. Our company itself has been involved in very extensive training programmes, and we are seeing more of a national approach to getting with the cyber threats that are facing South Africa,” he said.
With an increase in online surveillance comes the potential infringement of the right to privacy. As has been the case in many countries across the globe, there are concerns that government’s ability to effectively ‘spy’ on an individual’s web activity may lead to an abuse thereof. Rosewarne said finding a balance between ‘national security’ and right to privacy would pose a significant challenge.
“Sometimes we know that boundaries are overstepped. But I firmly believe that it is important to be proactive in monitoring and keeping an eye on what’s going on; to really protect the interests of our country,” he suggested.
He was also keen to heed a warning to both individual and business users frequenting the web, urging them to be extremely vigilant when dealing with their finances and other vital information online. He noted a trend of large sums of money being stolen on a daily basis from both individuals and companies within SA.
“We are talking about billions of rands per annum in SA. The scary part, apart from the money lining the pockets of criminals, is if it is being funnelled to fund terrorist organisations,” he added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)