CYBER TERRORISM: HOW REAL IS THE THREAT IN NIGERIA?

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The term cyber terrorism is not commonly used in Nigeria. The question is, are cyber terrorists operating in Nigeria? In April 2007, there was a decision to move a statue in Estonia from its present location to another, the Russians protested this move, on the 26th and on the 27th there was a denial of service attack on online services of media outlets, banks and government bodies that affected the whole of Estonia. Coincidence? In October 2019, “there was a large-scale attack against thousands of websites in Georgia and although the attack was not all that sophisticated, it left some government services inoperable for a while”. These scenarios are cases of cyber terrorism in the past. In simple terms, cyber terrorism is a coordinated attack on a government, industry, or organization in order to further an ideology, a social, religious, or political cause. Cyber terror acts cause physical harm and at times they are a way of instilling fear and influencing critical decisions.

Some forms of cyber terrorism are Denial of service of essential government services and infrastructure, Ransomware on critical government resources, sabotage, and it could also be in the form of spreading videos of threats and graphic photos wreaking havoc via the Internet.

On the 28th of March 2022, gunmen attacked a train traveling to Abuja from Kaduna in Nigeria. They blew up a part of the rail track thereby cutting the journey of the train short, at least 7 people were left dead, 168 were kidnapped/missing and some were left injured. This incident is one of the many terror attacks going on in Nigeria. The use of Internet elements aided the Abuja-Kaduna train attack. You could say that cyber terrorism also means using cyberspace to propagate an agenda, create chaos, recruit newbies into the terror circle, and essentially plan a physical attack.

The Nigerian terrorist group, Boko-Haram, is still very much in existence because of the use of cyber-physical space to further their cause, some group members have the technical know-how to coordinate operations using cyberspace. Financing, recruiting and even the planning of their attacks are being done online. Threatening videos and clips of acts of terror are spread online to instill fear in both the government and citizens. For the Kaduna train attack, there are valid speculations of the attack being a collaboration between the Boko-haram terror group, ISWAP, and other terrorist groups. Whether it is a collaboration between them or not, you would agree with me that this attack could not have been possible without enough planning and communication which must have been carried out using cyberspace. In the wake of the attack, videos of the kidnapped passengers have been spread on the Internet with an ultimatum, this act further spreads terror across the country and most importantly to the families of the victims. The coordinated attack by about 300 members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Kuje Medium Correctional Center on July 5 is nothing short of cyber terrorism. The terrorists utilized communication installations and the Internet to cause fear to law-abiding citizens in Kuje and around the country which successfully overwhelmed the security service men guarding the Correctional Center while giving the heavily armed gunmen the opportunity to free their members for future attacks if nothing is done. The terrorist group who were recently reported to have orchestrated the Abuja-Kaduna train carnage also released footage of the Kuje attack using the Internet.

Some acts of cyber terrorism in Nigeria are not reported and citizens do not always have full disclosure. During the 2020 EndSARS protest, a movement to end police brutality and poor management, the hacker group called Anonymous, hacked some government websites. Although these attacks were quickly mitigated, this does not negate the fact that cyber terrorism in Nigeria is real.

Citizens who have concluded that traveling by train was safe are now left confused and scared since the only ‘safe’ means of traveling is no longer safe. Businesses have been disrupted, websites taken down and citizens have been physically injured, killed, or kidnapped dues to acts of terror. Cyber terrorism is also encouraged by peddlers of false and unverified information. It might sound insignificant, but havoc has been wrecked due to the peddling of false propaganda.

What can be done?

  • The intelligence community of government must collaborate, analyze the pieces of information at their disposal using information technology and take actionable steps to mitigate cyber terrorism attacks on citizens and government installations.
  • Discourage the peddling of false information. Unverified news should be discarded.
  • Avoid sharing videos of terror and chaos on the internet.
  • Join in the advocacy to encourage the youths to shun cyber-crimes and embrace sustainable capacity building and development.
  • Participate in civil duties and strengthen democracy for the right leaders with the character and competence to emerge and fight cyber terrorism. Report suspicious activities around them to the relevant authorities.

Deliberate actions, policies, and best practices are needed by all stakeholders to clamp down on cyber terrorism in Nigeria.

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