By DARLINGTON MWENDABAI
THE advent of the internet has contributed to globalisation. The downside is that it has been accompanied by a surge in cybercrimes, which pose a threat to many economies, including that of Zambia.
Using modern telecommunication networks such as emails, chat rooms and social networks, cybercrime is threatening the world’s security and financial health.
According to a recent report by the Global Cyber Security Agenda, cyber evil-doing involves use of the computer networks to harm the reputation of individuals or organisations and includes copyright infringement, fraud, hacking, account thefts; identity thefts, computer viruses and unsolicited mail, commonly referred to as spam among other on-line crimes.
The report says cybercrime is estimated to cause losses of more than US$105 billion worldwide every year. In 2010 alone, at least 280 million web attacks were committed on individuals and organisations, an increase of about 93 percent compared to the previous year.
For example, the Zambia Police Service’s Cyber Security Bureau (CSB) in 2010 arrested a Lusaka resident while his Australian accomplice bolted after stealing US$ 235,000 from people who wanted to buy cars on-line.
The then Deputy Commissioner of Police responsible for Information and Communication Technology (ITC) Solomon Jere, said the suspects used to steal undisclosed amounts of money from on-line car buyers.
The unsuspecting car buyers were swindled after following adverts placed on internet inviting them to buy vehicles which were never delivered.
This was done through placement of advertisements on the internet inviting people to buy cars by paying money to a non-existent company.
Dr Jere, who is now Deputy Inspector General of Police, explained that the police managed to arrest one of the men based in Lusaka while the other one based in Australia ran to the UK.
Other than being conned to buy non-existent cars on-line, many have fallen victims to fraudsters who also trap unsuspecting internet users like Lidia Ngwenya of Chipata.
Ms Ngwenya recalls how fraudsters purportedly from Tanzania nearly swindled her of millions of kwacha after exchanging emails and phone calls for weeks.
She says in 2011, a woman claiming to be Tanzanian emailed her purporting to be a widow who needed an international administrator.
Excited with the offer, Ngwenya gave her the phone number and the on-line criminal introduced a male colleague as the uncle and sold to her the ‘lucrative’ deal from Tanzania.
“We were promised 40 percent of shares if we managed to administer the estate of the widow but we discovered that we were dealing with on-line fraudsters. The man demanded our bank account details but we refused and we cut communication,” Ms Ngwenya says.
She says many people are being swindled of their hard-earned money hence, the need to be careful when transacting on-line.
Another common cybercrime, according to Zambia Information and Communications Authority (ZICTA), involves ‘Sexting’, which is the practice of sending nude or partially nude pictures of oneself by cell phone. It is very popular among the kids.
Typically, it is girls taking pictures of themselves with their cell phone and sending the pictures to somebody else, often a boyfriend.
Part of the problem is that once one sends the picture on the cell phone, they lose control and the pictures go viral on the Internet.
ZICTA says some kids have lost scholarships when a college has done a background check and found these pictures online. In some cases, sexting can be a felony.
Therefore, sending naked pictures or keeping naked pictures of anyone can be prosecuted as pornography. A child who does so could go to jail, ZICTA warns.
Other cybercrimes are targeting kids who use cell phones to send and receive text messages. It has been established by ZICTA that on-line criminals at times have access to private computers through using innocent children. ZICTA urges parents never to allow children to give cell phone numbers to strangers and on-line friends adding that there is need to reflect on the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of someone underage, even if it includes oneself.
The authority says about K1.3 billion ($582 000) has been set aside for combating on-line criminal activities, which are on the increase in the country.
To this effect, the authority has partnered with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to establish a watch and warn centre with a computer system which will regulate mail activities on the internet.
This process seeks the creation of a Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT) which will be established at multiple centres nationwide to combat cybercrime activities.
On a regional level, a recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting on the harmonised cyber security legal framework held in Gaborone, Botswana, heard that four countries already have cybercrime laws.
These are Botswana, Mauritius, South Africa and Zambia while the other 11 member states are either developing cyber crime legislations or have started national consultations on the matter.
From the meeting, it was learnt that through information communication technologies (ICTs), it was easier for member states to achieve millennium development goals (MDGs). however; cybercrime stills poses serious challenges, particularly for developing countries that have relatively low expertise in dealing with challenges of such crimes.
Meanwhile,Eastern Province chamber of Commerce and Industry (EPCCI) president Thomas Mtonga says although there are no records to show many companies transact electronically in Zambia, there is need to fight cybercrime.
Mr Mtonga says the crime needs to be fought with concerted efforts because it has continued to pose as a threat to the local economy.
“The beginning point to fight cybercrime is at personal level. People need to know how to use the internet whenever they transact electronically. Report any suspected transactions to ZICTA or police,” he says.
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