This week the University of Botswana is hosting the First International Conference on the Internet, Cyber Security and Information Systems, held in Gaborone in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. On Tuesday, the United States’s State Department announced that it will attend and contribute. The conference is aimed at international collaboration to better understand how African countries, especially ones that have burgeoning internet economies, can secure themselves and participate in a global effort to strengthen cyber protection policies.
Some African countries — seen as the "last frontier” for internet development and technological advancement — are ripe for cyber hacking. Countries that do not have to overhaul their legacy infrastructure in order to establish systems such as 4G, for example, have that to their advantage, but they also leave vulnerabilities open for cyber criminals.
One of the important factors in Africa’s digital build-out and its need for cyber protection and policies is the high rate of mobile payments. E-payment systems and mobile banking are huge across the continent as those systems have become more reliable and available than actual banks. Of course, they are primary targets for hackers.
Botswana isn’t known for its leadership in the internet industry across Africa — the country’s internet penetration was around 28.4% in 2015 according to Internet World Stats. So serving as the host for this conference is also a signifier that Botswana’s government is key to Africa’s advancing digital economy. Government officials from Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, and more are also attending.
The common ground here between countries like Botswana who have leagues of work ahead of them to elevate their internet economies and the United States — a country with a robust internet economy — is the threat of cyber warfare. No economy, however digitally advanced, is exempt from hacking or cyber crime. The collaboration at the conference in Botswana this week could set an important precedent for countries that have sub-par web industries to establish cyber crime prevention strategies before their digital economies advance beyond governments’ ability to secure them.