State Department Looks After the Next Cyber Threat: Africa


Developing economies viewed as menace to themselves online with little security infrastructure.

The federal government increasingly is concentrating diplomatic efforts on protecting Americans from hackers, but less is said about foreign allies who are equally mobile and even more vulnerable. Now, the State Department is paying attention.

In emerging economies -- which depend on inexpensive smartphones for everything from banking to crime-fighting -- network security is almost an afterthought.

Today, "due diligence" is one of State's top priorities, Thomas Dukes, senior adviser for the department’s Office of the Cyber Coordinator, said Tuesday. Foreign Service professionals will help developing nations strengthen their communications infrastructure. 

India, South Africa and other emerging nations potentially pose a cyber threat to themselves, and, to some degree, global networks that are interconnected. 

In March, Agence France-Presse reported: “Hackers have claimed the scalp of the South African Ministry of State Security’s Twitter account, underlining concerns that Africa may be the soft underbelly of global cyber security.”  During that incident, attackers merely usurped the @StateSecurityRS account to advertise a “miracle diet” and then officials were able to change the password to regain control.

But cybersecurity officials fear the next attack on an African government could be more insidious. “It wouldn’t be hard to shut down the government,” Craig Rosewarne, founder of South African-based consulting firm Wolfpack Information Risk, told AFP. “There’s very little in place, so even the most basic of attacks, in most cases, get through.” Most developing African nations have been either unwilling or unable to protect networks against the growing menaces of cybercrime and domestic hacktivism, the report said. 

State has begun bilateral engagement with Brazil, India, South Africa, and even alleged cyberspy China, on the cyber issue, Dukes said at a Georgetown University conference on international computer security risks. "Those are countries that are leaders of the developing world and countries where we think it is very important to identify the things that we agree upon and don't agree upon," he said. 

(Image via GrandeDuc/