Cyber War from-in Africa?

Recent post at Techdirt.com asks and answers the question whether, the growing online connectivity in Africa is really a bad sign:

In recent months, a number of folks have argued that the arrival of high-speed bandwidth in Africa represents not an opportunity for economic growth, but a dangerous threat to the world. According to these Western pundits who are, incidentally, often promoting their cybersecurity services, computers and connectivity in Africa either pave the way for terrorists to unleash cyber-attacks or for botnet operators to gather millions of unprotected machines into their control. Although we’ve spent considerable time debunking the hysteria around cyberwar, this new version of the meme is even more unfounded.

Worrying that Africa is going to start producing top-notch hackers in any great quantity seems pretty absurd, when we’re talking about a continent where basic literacy, not to mention programming prowess, is a challenge. When Franz-Stefan writes in one of the articles above, that “skillful cybercriminals operating out of an unregulated Internet cafe in the slums of Addis Ababa, Lagos, or Maputo” will create the world’s biggest botnets, he shows that he has little understanding of those “slums.” For starters, electricity is intermittent enough to make cyberwar a sputtering failure. Secondly, although there are pockets of terrorists on the continent, by and large, elsewhere terrorists have access to far better finances and bandwidth than their comrades in Mogadishu. The fact that those terrorists haven’t used the Internet for these types of attacks with any regularity suggests that they place far more faith in tried-and-true methods of terrorizing, and there is every reason to believe that those in Africa will be the same.

Finally, as Miquel Hudin points out, it is ridiculous (and very likely offensive) to think that Africans are any more likely to keep their PCs insecure than anyone else. An American or European who points to Africa as the source of infected botnet computers is wildly hypocritical considering the enormous number of insecure computers that wealthy, educated Westerners have in their homes and offices. It seems quite unlikely that African computers are any more insecure than elsewhere.

Frantic articles painting Africa as just another threat, especially with regard to a great opportunity for the continent – connectivity – are reckless and miss both on-the-ground context and level-headed responses to the challenges of the continent.

The  piece debunks the notion that Africa represents something beyond the norm.

The truth is, Africa is just the latest frontier, and yeah, with the opening connectivity, the worst elements will rise to the fore and make all sorts of mischief. But the bulk of humanity there will go about their business no better or worse than we do, given their resources. The criminals and terrorists and scam artists always flock to the most recently connected places, because they know the rules and security will lag desperately behind.

But the lag isn’t infinite, so things settle down eventually, and the process is driven by locals who are legally and successfully exploiting the connectivity and don’t care to be associated with such nonsense.

In short, this is a familiar process of frontier integration, and Africa doesn’t exactly present a case out of the norm. It’s just the case du jour.

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