There was a sense of alarm and dismay when some state websites were hacked and put out of action for a while recently.The view of a Ghanaian cyber security expert is that there could be more of such attacks on government agencies and companies as well as on important private establishments if the nation does not develop and implement a cyber security strategy to address cyber warfare, sabotage and espionage.
Mr Eric Afanu, who has more than a decade of experience in information security management, told The Mirror that it was also crucial for the government to come forward with laws to deal with cyber criminals within our jurisdiction.
“Given the important role computer systems and the Internet play in our daily lives now, their exploitation could have serious implications for individuals, companies and nations.
“It is therefore very important for this nation to take the bold step of instituting legislation and programmes to deal firmly with cyber attacks,” Mr Afanu pointed out.
Apart from the main government website that was knocked out recently by hackers who described themselves as ‘Alsancak Tim, a nationalist Turkish hacker group,’ there have also been reports of systems belonging to private banks, the Ministry of Justice and a public university being hacked. The term ‘hacking’ is usually used in the media to describe cyber criminals who intentionally breach computer security and break into other people’s computer systems or networks. People involved in criminal cyber activities are known in information security circles as ‘crackers’.
Over the years, however, the term ‘hackers’ has been persistently used in place of ‘crackers’ in the media and the two words have now come to have same meaning.
Hacking became a worldwide topic for discussion late last year when North Korea was said to have hacked into systems of Sony Pictures in the United States in protest against the company’s film called ‘The interview,’ the plot of which involves a bid to assassinate North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Since then, President Obama of the US has advocated for legislation that would improve the way the American government and private sector share information about cyber attacks, and which would also update the legal framework needed to go after cyber criminals.
Mr Afanu pointed out that hacking could also be used as a force for good by way of helping states or companies identify vulnerabilities in their computer systems in order to take pre-emptive measures to protect them.
“This is usually done by the good guys called ethical hackers and it must be done with permission,” the cyber security expert said.
Most African countries, Mr Afanu said, have no serious cyber-security strategies and laws in place and to the best of his knowledge, Ghana is one such nation. He admitted that there was a general shortage of cyber security experts around the world but Ghana could boast some highly qualified ones that could provide consultancy services to the government to address issues of cyber war. According to him, some countries are extremely serious about cyber warfare and are taking serious practical steps to have more experts in the field.
“We do not have enough cyber security professionals anywhere in the world. There is a high demand for these professionals in the United States for example, and flagship programmes are being carried out by the government there to identify and nurture talents.”
Mr Afanu pointed out that since computer systems were now used to control electric power grids and traffic lights as well as to provide platforms for electronic commerce and in medicine, governance, warfare and entertainment, it was important for continuous monitoring and taking of proactive measures to help thwart cyber attacks.
He advised that as a way of helping to prevent hacking, cyber security professionals must be hired or employed to provide layered security for systems. Outfits should also carry out security awareness training for all relevant parties to understand how an individual could be the weakest link in a protected environment.
“Cyber security professionals could also be made to carry out penetration testing on networks to identify and deal with vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers,” he said.
“For the Ghana government, it is imperative to design a cyber security strategy for the country as soon as possible,” he advised.