Connecting the dots: A global opportunity for mobile

Any American or European with a smartphone has access to a wealth of internet-enabled data and services: social media platforms, news and ecommerce websites, and mobile apps for everything from monitoring health metrics to ordering a car service downtown.

Other capabilities include mobile banking, peer-to-peer lending, trip planning, games - the list of services available to the typical smartphone-wielding mobile subscriber is nearly endless.

This digital bounty depends, of course, on having a smartphone, a mobile service plan, and being in a location with adequate mobile coverage. In the United States and Europe, it’s easy to take these requirements for granted. Most adults have smartphones, there are a variety of service providers and plans to choose from, and mobile access seems to be just about everywhere.

Throughout the rest of the world, Internet access and mobile coverage are less ubiquitous, but expanding rapidly. In fact, a recent report by the International Telecommunications Union predicted that, by the end of 2015, 3.2 billion people - about 44 per cent of world’s total population of 7.2 billion - will be online. That’s a huge increase from 2000, when only 6.5 per cent of the world's population had Internet access.

Progress, though, has been uneven. While 78 per cent of US and EU residents have a mobile broadband subscription, just 17.4 per cent of people in Africa have a mobile broadband subscription. Africa, in fact, is the only region in which mobile broadband penetration remains below 20 per cent. With respect to the roughly one billion people living in the least developed countries, such as Afghanistan, Haiti, and Uganda, just 12 per cent have a mobile broadband subscription.

And that's just mobile broadband. Less than 11 per cent of African households have Internet access and less than 7 per cent of all households in the least developed countries have Internet access.

To create new economic opportunities and to improve basic services such as healthcare, transportation, and finance, Internet access should be spread as widely as possible. NGOs such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org campaign are working to extend Internet access to previously unconnected parts of the world.

But developing countries need more than just Internet access. They also need Internet security, because along with Internet access comes Internet crime. Kaspersky Labs estimates that 49 million cyberattacks took place in Africa in the first quarter of 2014 alone, according to the BBC. Most of the attacks took place in Algeria, but Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa also experienced large numbers of attacks.

According to antivirus software maker Norton, about 70 per cent of Internet users in South Africa have been victims of cybercrime, about 20 per cent above the global average. McAfee estimates that these attacks cost South African companies half a billion dollars last year.

One of the challenges in combatting cybercrime in Africa and other parts of the developing world is a lack of a legal framework for prosecuting cybercrimes, including crimes that take place across borders. But changes are under way. As the BBC reported: “In June 2014, the African Union (AU) approved a convention on cybersecurity and data protection that could see many countries enact personal protection laws for the first time. For it to be implemented, however, 15 of the 54 AU member states will need to ratify the text. As yet, not one country has done so, though there is optimism it will happen in the next three-to-five years.”

In the meantime, there are concerns that the new convention does not strike the right balance between the investigatory rights of governments and the data privacy rights of individuals. The convention models some of its data privacy protections on those already established in the EU but it also gives governments and courts broad leeway to intercept and analyse Internet content. And it allows governments to waive data privacy concerns in the name of investigative work “carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority,” a phrase that, as experts cited by the BBC point out, is so vague it creates “a loophole ripe for abuse.”

Whether the convention is adopted as is or in a revised form, developing countries will have to adopt a framework like it for deterring cybercrime while protecting individual rights as mobile coverage and Internet access expand to their areas.

In addition, businesses in these developing countries will need to adopt their own security measures that guard against cyberattacks from external parties and leaks from internal sources. Enterprises will inevitably be required to implement the same sort of protections as enterprises in the U.S and the EU, including data encryption, access control, enforcement of data sovereignty and so on.

As the Internet and mobile computing expand, Internet security and mobile security must expand with them. Security best practices, coupled with prudent cybercrime legislation, will help ensure that new mobile users enjoy as fully as possible the benefits of online access.

Keith Poyser, GM EMEA, Accellion