By Albert Nduati
In our rapidly advancing digital landscape, the importance of cybersecurity has never been more pronounced, particularly for telecommunications companies. Recent events have underscored the critical role that telcos play in securing our increasingly interconnected world and protecting our digital future.
For Kenya, the digital revolution presents both opportunities and challenges. While it has the potential to transform the country, it also exposes us to new risks. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics [KNBS], cyberattacks are on the rise as more people and organizations go online. In their 2023 Economic Survey, they reported a startling statistic: the total number of online crimes in Kenya doubled from 339.1 million in 2021 to a staggering 700 million in 2022.
This surge in cybercrime should serve as a wake-up call for telecommunications companies. Recognizing their pivotal role in providing the networks and services that facilitate our online interactions, any breach could have severe consequences for both telcos and their customers.
However, the ramifications of cybersecurity threats extend far beyond the telco sector. These threats have the potential to devastate individuals, organizations, and even entire societies. They manifest in various forms, including data breaches, financial losses, disrupted operations, identity theft, and a erosion of trust, all of which pose a significant threat to our digital way of life.
To effectively combat these threats, it is essential for individuals and organizations to understand the common cybersecurity attacks and be prepared to take proactive measures against them. The KNBS economic report highlights several prevalent cyberthreats in Kenya, with malware attacks, Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks, and web application attacks topping the list. In 2022 alone, there were 163.9 million attempts at malware attacks, 82.7 million attempts at DDoS attacks, and 1 million web application attacks.
Malware attacks involve the use of malicious software designed to compromise computers, networks, and digital devices. They can result in data breaches and the theft of sensitive user information. Malware takes various forms, including viruses, worms, spyware, and ransomware.
On the other hand, DDoS attacks aim to overwhelm a target system, network, or website by flooding it with traffic from multiple sources. The goal is to render the system or website unavailable, denying users access to services.
For telecommunications companies, ensuring the secure and uninterrupted flow of data is paramount. This underscores the critical importance of telcos taking cybersecurity seriously. Here’s how they can achieve cybersecurity excellence:
- Proactive Defense: Telcos must proactively defend against prevalent cybersecurity threats such as malware attacks, DDoS attacks, and web application attacks. Given the sheer volume of attempted attacks, it is imperative to develop robust defenses against these disruptions.
- Resilience Against DDoS Attacks: Telcos should ensure the resilience of their networks against DDoS attacks, which seek to disrupt services. Recent instances of such attacks on essential services highlight the critical nature of this defense.
- Phishing and Spam Mitigation: Telcos must be acutely aware of the threat posed by phishing and spamming and take steps to mitigate such attacks, which often target unsuspecting users.
- Collaboration: In an era of evolving cyber threats, collaboration between telcos, government agencies, and cybersecurity experts through knowledge sharing and resource pooling can help create a more secure digital environment.
- Cybersecurity Awareness: Telcos can play a pivotal role in raising cybersecurity awareness among their customers. Educating individuals and businesses about safe online practices is not just a responsibility but also an opportunity to create a more secure digital environment.
In summary, telecommunications companies are essential in safeguarding our digital infrastructure and ensuring the secure flow of data. As governments enact and enforce robust cybersecurity policies to tackle the growing threats, organizations, including telcos, must follow suit. Individuals also have a role to play by staying informed about cyber risks and practicing safe online behavior. By working together, we can create a safer environment for everyone online. The digital future of Kenya and the world at large depends on it.
Albert Nduati is the IT Director at Airtel Kenya