As you may know now there was a cabinet reshuffle yesterday and a new ministry popped up. The Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation. The minister being outgoing Finance minister Patrick Antony Chinamasa.
As this news broke, jokes were made that Chinamasa is now the WhatsApp group admin for Zimbabwe. Memes popped up all over social media mocking the creation of the ministry and also the appointment. Maybe we do need a minister of Cyber Security after all.
First let us look at what cyber security means. In its basic definition it refers to those preventative techniques used to protect the integrity of networks, programs and data from attack, damage and unauthorised access. Cyber criminals around the world exploit weaknesses to steal information and money. They are also targeting governments’ ability to deliver essential services.
Seeing as Zimbabwean service delivery is not dependent on technology as we are still mostly offline that threat to essential services delivery is not that big here. An example of the threat to essential services delivery would be cyber criminals hacking the systems of a nuclear plant and in the best case scenario depriving millions of electricity or the transport system and messing with subway train schedules.
In Zimbabwe you could hack ZESA but their systems are not integrated or centralised to a point where you could cause major damage. Our transport system here cannot be hacked. Copacabana cannot be brought down by a computer. You could hack the army and find that personnel records or whatever missions they are working on were not punched into any computer but are stored neatly in lever arch files filling enormous cabinets.
The cyber threats we face in Zimbabwe are not to government operations and service delivery. There however are systems that if hacked this country could be brought to its knees. Just recently we saw both ZIPIT and EcoCash have system outages, not at the same time thankfully. If that happened though, with the country’s reliance on electronic money, mayhem might ensue. People might lose their hard earned bond notes whilst someone enriches themselves in the process.
Both ZIPIT and EcoCash are not government services and so have their own security measures but maybe the government might want to play a role in ensuring that those systems are secure.
The cyber threat in Zimbabwe that necessitated the creation of a Cyber Security ministry has to be the abuse of social media. We have seen an increase in cases of revenge porn and fake news recently. Fake news in particular caused a panic buying spree when it was falsely spread on WhatsApp that there was an imminent shortage of basic goods on the way.
That episode saw even the president respond and claim that those messages had been propagated by those seeking subversion of the country. Many government officials spoke on that issue, Chinamasa then as Finance minister included and the sentiment was that the government viewed social media as a threat to national security. So in that sense it is fair that people are calling VaChinamasa the Zim WhatsApp group admin as it seems social media will be his main focus.
So the biggest cyber threat that the country is facing is that of social media abuse and fake news. Individual Zimbabweans however face many more threats as tech novices have been pushed to risky transactions like internet banking when many do not have basic online security knowledge. Banks going paperless is welcome but threats increase as we move online.
Zimbabwe is readying a new law that deals with cyber threats and when it is finalised we will get a clearer picture of what VaChinamasa will be doing. We however know that social media regulation will be a big part of it.