Nigeria Takes Aim at Cyberscams

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
Nigeria made a major step toward demonstrating its commitment to addressing cybercrime by hosting the first West Africa Cybercrime Summit, attended by public and private sector organizations.

The conference is hosted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Microsoft.

"Cybersecurity is not only difficult to tackle, but also requires creative thinkers, talented policy makers who will understand and make people understand why and how a strong cybersecurity framework is a must for the creation of a vibrant national economy," said Namadi Sambo, Nigeria's vice president.

Nigeria is known for "advance fee" or "419" scams, which started after the fall of dictator Sani Abacha and a global campaign to have the money looted from the country repatriated, which gave a chance for criminals to masquerade as relatives of former leaders seeking to hide their wealth. Through schemes such as fake lotteries, bogus inheritances, romantic relationships, investment opportunities or -- infamously -- requests for assistance from "officials," scammers promise an elusive fortune in exchange for advance payments.

The conference was intended to strengthen trust by fostering partnerships among stakeholders at the national and international level. More than 200 government, civil society, academics, industry and international organizations participated in the conference, held in Abuja between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

"Advance fee fraud, particularly 419 scams, has plagued West Africa and damaged the region's reputation. This summit demonstrates and showcases how West Africa is stepping up to address the impact of fraud, helping to break the cycle through greater economic opportunity," said Dr. Jummai Umar-Ajijola, citizenship lead for Microsoft Anglophone West Africa.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
According to Microsoft's Security Intelligence Report volume 9, advance fee fraud accounted for 8.6 percent of the spam messages blocked by Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange in the second quarter of 2010.

"Microsoft is committed not only to protecting Internet users from scammers and cybercriminals, but to working with West Africa to combat this problem. We believe this summit is a great opportunity to fight advance fee fraud and help challenge existing attitudes about fraud," added Umar-Ajijola.

While the Nigerian government has enacted legislation against cybercrime, criminals have found allies in other neighboring countries, and the perception that the scams can provide quick returns has motivated more people to venture in. This has been one of the challenges facing Nigerian authorities.

"Part of the solution involves building the capacity of law enforcement. That takes money: budget for travel, training, equipment and retaining staff after training," said Steve Santorelli, director of global outreach at Team Cymru. "There is no silver bullet, each country needs a tailored approach based on their culture and specific issues that involves police, regulators, industry, consumer groups and end users."

Santorelli feels that the Nigerian government has demonstrated that it has put in place policies to combat cybercrime, but added that Nigeria's reputation as a major source of cybercrime will persist for some time.

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