Addressing the security needs of Africa

July 11, 2011 • Opinion

Fred Mitchell, Symantec Division Manager at Drive Control Corporation

Access to the Internet is a rapidly growing commodity and as connectivity continues to improve on the continent, greater numbers of users in Africa are joining the cyberworld.

In fact, according to the latest statistics from Internet World Stats, almost 120 million users in Africa have Internet access, representing more than 2500% usage growth over the last decade.  This number continues to rise.

While improved access to the Internet represents huge economic potential for Africa, it also means that users on the continent are becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats such as viruses, hackers and malicious spam.

Across the globe cybercrime has become something of an epidemic, and with Africa now joining the online revolution attacks are becoming progressively targeted towards users in this region.

Unprotected users are attractive targets when using internet banking, as hackers can easily steal login information and access accounts without authorisation.

Personal information needs to be safeguarded and spam emails that are phishing for information or contain malicious links need to be blocked to prevent theft of identity and money. Because users in this market may not be aware of the nature of the threats they face, the security solution they use needs to be advanced enough to block these threats before they reach the user.

When it comes to protecting themselves against the threats of cybercrime, one of the biggest challenges faced in the African market is affordability.

IT budgets are historically tight around the world, but in emerging economies such as Africa cash flow can be a problem and users may not necessarily be able to afford a high end branded security solution. The need for affordable protection, in combination with a lack of education around security solutions – why they are necessary and what functionality they should deliver – often leads users to download free anti-virus solutions.

However, these freeware solutions more often than not fail to deliver the right protection, or the right level of protection and seldomly provide updated virus definitions and downloads.   The result is that they do not stop the spread of malware and leave users who think they are protected, vulnerable to attack. Users in Africa need an affordable solution that delivers the functionality of higher end products.

A second challenge in the market is that freeware downloads offer no guarantees on functionality and do not provide support.  So if problems occur their users have nowhere to turn for advice. Africa’s users need a reliable solution, which offers the protection they need, along with support for the products so that in the event of something going wrong, they are able to more effectively deal with the problems arising.

They also require a solution that is easy to use, since as a growing market they do not have the years of knowledge and experience that users in first world countries have accumulated. Security products for the African market need to deliver the same functionality, with the added requirements of being affordably, reliable and easy to use.  This functionality should include basics such as anti-virus, antispyware, firewall and spam protection as well as enhanced features for full PC protection.

Some of these features should include rootkit detection to identify and remove hidden threats, tools to check downloads for threats before they enter a PC and browsing protection to counteract phishing and automatic downloads. Other functionality users should look for includes identity protection, active spam and junk email filters, the ability to block potentially unsafe websites, removal of malicious cookies and tools to monitor for malicious activity involving spyware, tracking cookies, suspicious ActiveX objects, browser hijackers, keyloggers, trojans and so on.

Updating should be automatic in order to combat the latest malware definitions and this should be conducted incrementally to minimise download time and bandwidth used.  The software should include comprehensive 24/7 support through a variety of options including email, telephone, live chat or web. On top of this the solution should be both affordable and easy to use to ensure users can access all of the software features without being slowed down by a confusing interface.

With growing adoption of the Internet in Africa and across the world, security is no longer a ‘nice to have’ and preventing cyber crime has become everyone’s problem. Product resellers, as experts in the security field, have a responsibility in this market to play more of an educational and less of a sales role, not simply dropping boxes and increasing their margins but actively working to help users improve their knowledge and awareness of cyber security issues the security solutions available to meet these needs.

Fred Mitchell, Symantec Division Manager at Drive Control Corporation

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