“Why a safe and secure online is important for development”

*Speech by Mr Tshoganetso Kepaletswe, Chief Technology Officer, Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), Launch of the Cyber SmartBW Challenge, Protea Hotel, Masa Square, Gaborone CBD

It is my great pleasure to join you today for this year’s important event on the Launch of the Cyber Smart BW Challenge. The month of October is globally dedicated to “Cybersecurity Awareness”, and therefore this Launch it is very important for us as the Communication Sector as it will help in sensitise the cyberspace community in Botswana about the  cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility everybody must play his part to ensure the online space is safe and secure for everyone, especially the youth who are the most active users of the cyberspace.

My speech today will focus on “why a Safe and Online space is important for Development”.  Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) plays an important role in the digital economy it facilitates the social and economic transactions of the country.  The COVID-19 Pandemic ‘New Normal’ era requires heavy reliance on the use of ICT to delivers the various services of the country economy. Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen the Country development requires a secure and safe cyberspace so the General Public to have the confidence and trust to use it.

Cybersecurity is relatively a new topic in Botswana, it has mainly been confused with Cybercrime. Cybersecurity is  the collection of tools, policies, legislation, security concepts, security safeguards, guidelines, risk management approaches, actions, training, best practices, assurance and technologies that are put in place to protect the cyberspace and prevent the cybercrime.

Now back to the question at hand; yes, online safety is undoubtedly important for development, but before we address why that is, I would like to briefly discuss how the COVID-19 Pandemic has created an opportunity for the ICT industry to boost our country’s development in particular on e-commerce and e-agriculture.

e-commerce – currently most of the companies in the country are not selling their products online. There are no local e-commerce platforms which can compete in the global market. The user confidence in some e-commerce platforms is negatively by the various cyber scams and fraud. To facilitate the e-commerce platform BOCRA as the .bw Registry is creating a dedicated www.xxxxx.shop.bw  to assist the shops in Botswana to go online.

e- agriculture – The ICT can use be used to facilitate production in most of the agricultural production areas. However, most of the Agricultural areas still lacking behind on connectivity and in addition digital skills are required for farmers. The Internet it can be a very good market tools for the Agricultural products. On the Agriculture side BOCRA will create www.xxxx.agric.bw

As the COVID-19 Pandemic cases increases in Botswana and in other countries, many employers are encouraging their employees to work from home to curb the spread of the disease. Working from home has its cybersecurity risks and challenges. Some companies create secure VPN virtual private network (VPN) or a secure home network with strong end-to-end encryption to facilitate working from home. However, it has been noted some Employers do not provide secure connections to facilitate working from home creating an opening for hackers to steal the sensitive data and fraud.  In certain instance, Employees use their personal accounts such as cloud-based platforms to share confidential company information.

Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) having realised the importance of cybersecurity in the protection of consumers in the regulated is completing the establishment of a Communications Sector – Communications Incident Response Team (COMM-CIRT).  The main role of COMM-CIRT is to coordinate and support the response to computer security incident in the communication sector. I am very happy to say BOCRA has been working with the European Union (EU) under the Cyber4Dev Program on the establishment of the COMM-CIRT.

COMM-CIRT has carried out cyber security found that Botswana is not immune to cyber-attacks, and a lot of companies were found to be very vulnerable to cyber- attacks. The team found that a lot of devices or machines in some organizations were compromised and had malicious software (malware) and Botnet. Botnet, which are a collection of internet-connected devices infected by malware that allow hackers to control them to perform illegal activities such as stealing data.

As a common security saying goes, the weakest link in cyber security is the human aspect, and this points out the need for a change in culture and mannerism online. It is a wonderful thing that our country is leveraging on ICT and technology-driven solutions to enable development and make our lives easier. However, it utterly goes without say that every citizen must take an active role to protect Botswana’s economy and development against cyber risks and threats that emerge from the use of technology. I have no doubt that this campaign will enable even the younger generation to play their part in secure and safe online activities.

Attackers normally targets computer user by sending them infected attachments or email links. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was found that most users were downloading and sharing documents. The COMM-CIRT team also noticed that hackers are targeting smartphones and tablet systems that are commonly run with minimal protection against viruses and malware, however they are mainly used for financial transactions online. Therefore, consumers are advised to always upgrade the devices operating systems to get the latest security features.

Governments, businesses, and consumers must guard against data leakage, unauthorised access to corporate resources and malware attack against their networks. We need to pay attention to our efforts to promote the adoption of appropriate information security measures among individuals and businesses.  Even as organisations take steps to secure their systems against these threats, they also need to pay attention to their suppliers’ level of cyber security. Vulnerabilities to the suppliers’ IT systems could potentially lead to the theft of client data entrusted to them, or worse, provide a pathway for attackers to gain access to their clients’ IT systems. Organisations must protect their own interests by ensuring that their suppliers meet accepted standards of cyber security.

Ladies and Gentlemen as we put more and more service online it is very important, we ensure the systems are secure and are operated in a safe manner. Cybersecurity requires a multi-stakeholder approach and it covers the following dimensions: policies and legislation, protection of National Critical Information Infrastructure, technical measures, capacity building and consumer awareness and international cooperation.

The National Critical Information Infrastructure identified in most of the countries are: Finance, Water, Energy, Electricity, Communication, Health, Mining, Agriculture etc. The sectors are very important for the country economic development therefore it is very important adequate cybersecurity risk management programme are implemented for their protection. Any cybersecurity breaches on any of the sector will have serious impact on the economic development of the country.

Let me highlight, the online space does not respect the physical borders, attacks can be launched in your country from far away, rendering national legislations ineffective. Therefore, International cooperation and harmonisation of legislations is very important in addressing the challenges of cybersecurity.

Lastly let me indicate that Government of Botswana, through a multi-stakeholder team which involved various Ministries and Private sector, has already developed a National Cybersecurity Strategy which is at the final stage of approval. The strategy has various action items dealing with issues of consumer education and awareness as it is realised as a critical component for the successful secure and safe online space.

The Cyber SmartBW Challenge launch provides us with the opportunity to pass the message of awareness  and discuss, debate and find solutions to mitigate cyber threats, and provide a trusted and secure online environment for individuals and organisations in a constantly changing environment. The campaign will help in raising awareness among the youth so that they can understand cyberspace risks.