East Africa Cyber Security Forum – are we there yet?

The state of cybercrime in East Africa is worrying, and there appears no clear strategy to addressing the vice. As developed countries strengthen their

The state of cybercrime in East Africa is worrying, and there appears no clear strategy to addressing the vice.

As developed countries strengthen their cybercrime management capabilities, some questions are coming up: are East African countries ready? Does the East African community need to coordinate the cybercrime management strategy?

The Snowden era has raised more questions than answers. The recent revelations that US could have eavesdropped on the Germany Chancellor’s communications and other top politicians have changed the way alliances look at each other when it comes to developing cyber weaponry and capabilities.

This is an issue of national security.

Cooperating with another country in developing cyber weaponry capabilities is like outsourcing your entire national army. How can a sovereign state rely on another for her national security interests? How can regional countries cooperate to develop internal security defense systems?

National security has always been a preserve for the nationals. There is no debate about it. Sovereign states must develop their own strategy to train locals in gaining skills and knowledge to develop custom cyber defense and weaponry capabilities.

This has nothing to do with companies in different countries sharing knowledge and expertise to develop cyber security defense mechanisms.

A scarily condition for national security

The need for robust cyber weaponry and defense capabilities is a challenge to all nations especially those in developing countries. For long, countries have sponsored their nationals at prestigious institutions globally in different skills and technologies. They have given them unlimited budgets to brain storm and develop a different set of hybrid technologies in their own local languages (to be it difficult for reverse engineering) and established them as elite cyber defense team with capabilities for both offensive and defensive.

These are often young people, identified at ages of 8-14 years from a lot of so many. They are then given opportunities to train at some of the best schools by the best teachers. After 10-20 years of training, they emerge as the nation’s cyber defense team. This kind of team has capacity to develop cyber weapons and countermeasures never seen before. And they are able to do this in their own local languages thereby making it very difficult for other nations to copy or use.

A new twist

For long, national spending on security and intelligence machinery has always been classified in all countries. The expenditure and tools procured are always ‘classified’ or a ‘secret’ even to Parliament and any accountability agency. That is how critical national security is to a nation.

Cyber defense system is posing a new kind of challenge to national security. Most of the time, countries lack a clear and robust strategy to empower nationals to develop their cyber defense systems.

There is a big tradeoff between working with expatriates and locals. Although preferred, the locals lack the appropriate skills and knowledge to develop local capacity. Others don’t want to train their juniors for fear of losing jobs. You have a situation where the big (read old) people go for training in cyber defense oblivious of their mental inability to grasp the concepts.

Although the East African Cyber Security Forum is timely, it is not the right solution for the national security of member countries. Each country must develop capacity to create cyber defense and weaponry systems independent of member states. So how do you do this without a clear strategy in place?

Remember, cyber security has nothing to do with national cyber defense strategy. The latter aims at developing both offensive and defensive capabilities at national military level.

Hope our countries have already developed these capabilities.

Copyright Mustapha Mugisa, 2013. All rights reserved.

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