By Akhram Mohamed, Cyber Security and Privacy Officer (CSPO), Huawei South Africa – As South Africa’s smartphone penetration and internet connectivity increases, so does the growing concern for cybersecurity and data privacy.

The omnipresence of digital technologies, IoT devices and cloud computing has given rise to extreme datafication also known as big data. According to a Statista 2021 report, the amount of data generated in 2021 alone is greater than all the data generated collectively between 2010 and 2016. This is a frightening statistic when one considers the privacy risks associated with the collection and processing of personal data.

In the 2 years between 2019 and 2021 alone, South Africa saw an increase in cyber attacks and data breaches affecting large banks, credit bureaus, ISP’s, utilities, SOE’s and even the info regulator itself. The Covid-19 Pandemic didn’t make things any easier, in fact the rapid adoption of e-commerce and other digital platforms as well as the shift to remote work, accelerated the volume of cyber attacks and by extension data breaches.

As per the 2021 Mimecast Threat Intel report, South Africa experienced a 75% increase in identity fraud in the first 100 days of the pandemic. Fraud that was enabled through the exploitation of various data breaches that has plagued the country in recent times. The implementation of the Protection of personal Information Act (POPIA) in 2021 and its respective legislative requirements such as informing consumers and the regulator of a data breach incident as soon as reasonably possible (recommended as 72hours), only served to further highlight how frequent such incidents have become.

Since POPIA was enacted in mid-2021 around 142 South African organizations have reported a data breach to the Information regulator. These breaches covered various industries and organizations with the most recent and high profile being the Transunion credit bureau hack in March 2022, which was reported to have compromised the personal data of some 54 Million South Africans. These types of attacks are not going away anytime soon. As we become more dependent on digital technologies, big data, cloud and AI our efforts in cybersecurity and data protection would also need to increase exponentially. A 2021 Interpol African Cyber threat assessment report revealed cybercrimes cost the South African economy R2.2 Billion annually. Cybercrime and data breaches are proving to be the number 1 long term risk not only to our economy but also the sovereignty of our nation.

Whilst government has taken important steps in enacting legislation and frameworks such as NCPF and POPIA, we cannot only rely on policy and regulation to navigate these serious challenges. The rise of cybersecurity incidents, coupled with an increased number of laws and regulations around the globe has exposed the crucial need to build more robust, collective cybersecurity capabilities across industries.

Public and private sector must come together and start dealing with the legislative, regulatory, ethical, and technical frameworks that will govern cybersecurity and as extension, data privacy in our new normal. Huawei’s expertise in cybersecurity and data privacy along with that of various other industry leading organizations can be harnessed to assist South Africa in navigating the challenges of our digital future.

We need to set shared goals, align responsibilities and collaborate to build a trustworthy digital environment.