The rise of global gangs of organised cybercriminals continues unabated and continues to pose a clear and present danger as South Africa’s economy opens up.

Curfews and lockdowns helped boost online activity tremendously in 2020 as South Africans sought digital ways to stay safe and be productive. However, this increasing connectivity came at a cost as more of us online attracted the attention of local and international fraudsters.

“South Africans learnt how to sanitise and social distance last year and we also became much more cyber savvy which will serve us well in the future,” says Lucky Masilela, CEO of the ZA Central Registry NPC (ZACR), the administrator of South Africa’s presence on the web.

“Let’s keep our guard up as the economy opens up this year and remember not to randomly click on suspect links, keep our anti-virus software updated and don’t download attachments we are not expecting.”

This world-leading non-profit central registry manages, inter alia, South Africa’s best-known second-level .ZA domains including co.za, net.za, org.za and web.za.

The CO.ZA namespace experienced tremendous growth in 2020, powering over the 1.25m registered domains mark during South Africa’s initial Covid-19 hard lockdown. This suggests South Africans are increasingly snapping up .ZA domains to help them launch businesses, pursue study and entertainment opportunities, secure their digital identities and generally become more active online as transacting in the bricks and mortar world remains challenging.

ZACR urges South Africans to protect themselves online with these common sense hints and tips:

* Children and teens are set to spend more time online. Talk to your child about cyber safety and listen to their online experiences. Explain to them the importance of being just as safe online as offline.

* Gaming is growing fast in South Africa. Local gamers should protect themselves by being courteous and respectful online because online anonymity is not guaranteed. Smart hackers with axes to grind can find out the real-world identities of other gamers they feel offended them.

* Safeguard your email address by not distributing it carelessly all over the web and protect yourself from malware and ransomware attacks by starting to using longer passphrases as opposed to shorter passwords.

* Keep your software up to date by allowing your operating system to execute its regular updates. Consider paying for an effective, brand name anti-virus solution. Guard against intrusion by fake emails, software plug-ins and add-ons that wish to gain illegitimate access. Think carefully before you click on any link or attachment you are not expecting.

* Finally, if you have been a victim of online fraud, you should report the matter to the appropriate authorities. If a serious crime has been committed, you need to report it to the SAPS at a police station nearest to you. If you don’t want to report a crime, but would like to report possible online fraud or suspicious activity, you can use incident@cybersecurityhub.gov.za to report it to the national Cybersecurity Hub.