By Ilonka Badenhorst, Managing Executive at WASPA
According to the 2020 State of the ICT Sector report, SA’s smartphone penetration surpassed 91.2% in 2019. If we consider this, together with the GSMA report, which indicates that more than 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa subscribed to mobile services during 2020 – this means that the mobile environment has truly moved away from the previous feature phone era, which had limited abilities, and evolved into the smartphone era which provides consumers with endless options and access to information.
This connected world is full of benefits that have transformed the way people, businesses and even ‘’devices’ communicate these days. While many enjoy the perks of e-commerce, tap-and-go payment options and access to important files, which is mostly done through mobile devices (even more so today with the work-from-home (WFH) culture) – the dark side of this is the increasing rise in mobile fraud being perpetuated.
Mobile service fraud has become a lucrative business where cyber criminals have developed advanced measures to unlawfully steal consumer and business data, which not only compromises the safety of consumers, but the service provider’s ability to safely engage with its consumers. Furthermore, when cybercriminals access personal information, it can often lead to a string of other issues such as identity theft, illegal electronic surveillance, theft of intellectual property and financial losses.
Recently, news headlines have pointed to some industry giants falling victim to malicious attacks, and we have also seen far too many consumers being exposed to unsolicited mobile services. However, industry players are continuously endeavouring to secure systems and to stay ahead of any potential threats, to ensure consumers can make use of mobile services with confidence. These measures have had a high success rate and have blocked a great deal of attempted fraudulent attacks. Unfortunately, nothing is fool-proof and on occasion these attempts lead to actual fraudulent and illegal activity.
While there is much to be done to gain a stronger grip on mobile service security provision – there are still few things businesses can examine in the battle against mobile fraud.
Employee and Consumer Education
While businesses can ensure that they have appropriate threat detection for their operations and network, the reality is that employees are still a ‘weak link’ in the cyber security chain. Cyber security and anti-fraud firm, Evina, has determined that one out of every three mobile subscription attempts in South Africa is fraudulent. In fact, they estimate that Africa’s mobile fraud losses will continue to rise above the 2020 figure of $4 billion if nothing is done to prevent global cybercriminals from looting the digital space.
This means that employee and consumer education must be ramped up, and businesses must invest time and money in equipping individuals with the right resources to navigate the digital environment, safely. Targeted education programmes around what they can do to protect themselves and their personal information must be implemented – as well as information sharing around what tools the service has in place to protect its consumer information. Most importantly though, is ensuring that employees and consumers understand what to do should they feel their data is compromised.
Data protection is increasingly becoming a leading conversation globally. In South Africa, given that businesses are left with just a month to abide by the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA), this is now critical to address.
As South Africa’s mobile ecosystem evolves, more control measures and strict regulations are needed to protect consumers and businesses from mobile fraud. An example is the Wireless Applications Service Providers’ Association (WASPA). WASPA is dedicated to ensuring that members adhere to industry standards and rules, which are monitored and regulated daily. Members of the association abide by a strict Code of Conduct and requires them to meet certain standards in terms of privacy, consumer protection, spam, and protection of minors. Membership to such an organisation indicates to your customers that your company takes these issues seriously.
The battle against mobile fraud is certainly a difficult one, and one that evolves arguably as quick, if not quicker than the new technologies that create the loopholes. It is imperative that we pair the enthusiasm to understand new mobile service offerings, with the enthusiasm to safely navigate the dangers of the digital environment.
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