Technology giant Microsoft recently opened a Cybercrime centre at the Company’s headquarters in Redmond, US and while the centre is based abroad, it will also monitor cyber security issues across Africa.
Cybercrime is often associated with, or directly stems from, pirate and counterfeit software. In Africa, Microsoft is trying hard to combat the problem and will continue to do so with the help of the technology from Microsoft’s Cybercrime Centre.
“We opened the centre to create awareness, carry out enforcement of piracy, and cybercrime prevention. In our market there is a high chance of piracy, and we are supporting the governments to address the issue of piracy. But Microsoft can’t do it alone, and we have to work to with Intellectual Property bodies and companies and have managed to reduce it,” said Daniel Kanya Kamau, Director for Anti-Piracy at Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands.
Kamau explained that not only are users impacted by pirate software, but it often has a great effect on a country’s economy. “Governments understand that Intellectual Property impacts the economy, but that hasn’t been the issue with software before… only for musicians and the music they create. Currently we are fostering a strong reseller community, so that they can quantify the impact on the economy.”
He added that Microsoft recently announced a partnership with the Kenya Copyright Board to let users know that pirate software is wrong and it has also started similar discussions in Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
As to why cybercrime and pirate software is so prevalent in Africa, Kamu explained that a lot of new PCs are making their way to the continent. “There are more PCs coming into Africa. If you use counterfeit software, often you send the keystrokes to a criminal, and in the context of a business, that is very dangerous.”
He also added that customers are price-sensitive and will often go for a product that is slightly cheaper than the original, not knowing of the dangerous involved.
However, he was quick to explain that Microsoft continues to make headway - and referred to the software company’s proactive role in contributing towards policy development in support of a cyber security law currently under discussion by the African Union.
“That demonstrates that cybercrime is a huge problem in Africa, and some government websites have been taken down, while some have (perpetrators) have hacked into banks. Governments are increasing their awareness, and in Kenya cybercrime is in the Top 3 ICT priorities.”
He added that the level of awareness of counterfeit software is on the rise and this reduces the risk and likelihood of cybercrime.
Marius Haman, Corporate Attorney, Microsoft Middle East & Africa Digital Crimes Unit, says that this unit focuses on botnet networks and elements of cybercrime. He said that upon Microsoft’s reflection of the threat landscape, it was clear that problems being faced by customers often had something to do with software piracy.
He added that the cyber-crime centre was created to make a difference. “Users are putting themselves at risk by using pirate software. We realised there is an opportunity to make a real difference in customers’ lives, and Microsoft can’t sit back and let this happen to our users – that’s why we created the cyber-crime centre,” he said.
“A lot of people simply don’t know, there is always an ignorance factor, and there are a lot of people out there who are unscrupulous. There hasn’t been an appreciation for IP in many countries, but how do you leverage that? IP is necessary to foster innovation. If you look at Africa, it plays a central role in this.”
He said with the centre they will be able to actively show delegates the impact that pirate software and cybercrime can have on their businesses and government infrastructure. “We have delivered our assessments to governments in Africa, and you can imagine the implications that it has. Doing the threat assessment and showing them what it implicates, strikes them rather hard when they see the impact.”
He reiterated that the Africa Union is involved in combatting cybercrime and pirate software. “The cyber-crime discussion is moving at a more rapid pace, as things start spreading faster. The problem is that few countries have cybercrime laws, so the AU has taken a lead to help countries develop their strategy.”
“Africa is a huge focus, not only for Africa, but for everyone involved.”
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor