May 7, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Even if you are lucky not to have been a direct victim of cybercrime, you're definitely not spared from countless unsolicited emails with too-good- to-be-true offers that swamp your inbox daily. It is hard to imagine that anyone is fooled by this spam any more, but the fact is that organized criminals are using cyberspace more and more for illicit profit and much of this crime -- especially the letter or email frauds -- originate from Nigeria.
This West African nation, the most populous country in Africa, which has been infamous for crime and corruption for years, has become a hotbed of Internet crime over the past few years. According to the latest report of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) run by the FBI, Nigeria features third (behind USA and UK) in the list of top-10 perpetrators of cybercrimes. However, when it comes to fleecing unsuspecting victims online through spam emails and misrepresentations, Nigeria appears to supersede all others. In fact, so huge is the volume of letter fraud originating from the country that IC3 even describes all scam letters or emails as 'Nigerian Letter Scams'.
The reason Nigeria has emerged as the weakest link in the global battle against cybercrime is not because the Nigerian government and its enforcements authorities are aware of the crimes emanating from the country, nor that they choose to overlook the malaise. Rather, the problem is that both the government and the enforcement authorities there suffer from what experts call "an IT security divide".
"Fighting cybercrime requires not just IT knowledge, but IT intelligence on the part of the security agencies," says Jide Awe, the founder Jidaw Systems Ltd., one of the leading human resource and ICT training firms in Africa. "In this crime arena, there is a serious shortage of skills to deal with the threats associated with IT. Security agencies [in Nigeria] need to be equipped with the skills, the know-how and the insight necessary to fight cybercrime effectively."
The good news on the horizon is that there is an effort now to fill this void. A Lagos, Nigeria-based non-governmental and not-for-profit voluntary initiative, the Human Rights and Justice Group International (HRJGI), is running an innovative project under the banner of the Campaign Against Cybercrime (CAC). This seeks to utilize the power of ICT to make "intelligence" an effective tool for combating cybercrime.
"The basic objective of the CAC is securing the fundamental rights of Internet users", says Prince Devison Nze, the program coordinator at the Human Rights and Justice Group International. "In that pursuit CAC acts a platform for redressal of Internet crimes for the people of Nigeria and around the world."
CAC's overall goal is to act as a reporting and referral system for cybercrime complaints from both victims and law enforcement agencies. Using tools like email, SMS, fax, and mobile telephony, the project networks and collaborates with law enforcement agencies and other organizations to track down fraudsters.
"While the Nigerian Government and the country's enforcement agencies are extremely proactive in battling cybercrimes, perpetrators of such crimes continue to thrive because most escape the enforcements agencies' radar," says Devison.
"We help these agencies track cybercriminals with our ICT abilities like locating the origin of email, tracking the number of item purchased with stolen credit cards, identifying real owners of credit cards, bank of issuance, destination of the items, and the likes," he adds.
HRJGI claims that to enable tracking, it even developed its own technology called NijaTech. This is an information platform that not only receives and refers criminal complaints to enforcement agencies, but by combining existing digital technologies, it tries to pinpoint the whereabouts of the criminals including the IP addresses used, and the originating and terminating destinations of fraudulent transactions.