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Cyber-attacks a wake-up call

THE week’s crippling cyber-attack on the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) should be a wake-up call for everyone, from individuals to organisations and the government to strengthen their systems. It shows that cybercrime is a potent national security risk. At the time of going to press last night, the Central Bank was not yet clear when the national payment system would be recovered and restored.

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Local and international experts were said to be working round the clock to get the system back up. It is a sign of the seriousness of the crisis that the Central Bank has been reluctant to indicate when all will be well.

Details of the real impact of the attack on the economy are scant but we can safely speculate that it is huge.
We are talking of a suspension of the entire interbank payment system, the backbone of the whole economy. The impact on trade cannot be overstated.

Because the situation is still unfolding, the Central Bank cannot say with certainty that it has not lost any critical information. We can only breathe a collective sigh of relief when the investigation is complete. And that might take days or weeks.
Yet we cannot say we didn’t see early signs.

The government’s financial system has suffered serious attacks in recent months.
Other organisations have also been hacked. So have companies and organisations across the world. Such incidents should have put every organisation and country on high alert to strengthen their systems.

But it will be foolhardy to pillory the Central Bank over this attack.
No organisation, no matter how small or big, is completely immune to such attacks. The world of cybersecurity is an ever-ending crude battle between the good guys and the criminals. Each is trying to outwit the other and sometimes the good guys come second best.

It doesn’t mean they are incompetent or have slept on the job. The trouble is that their defeat, no matter how small, could have a ruinous impact on individuals, organisations and the country. The incident at the Central Bank is a case in point.

In the ensuing public outrage, a few care to remember that the Central Bank’s computer experts have most likely been successful at fending off similar threats in the past. They have won more battles than they have lost.
Such are the low margins of error in cybersecurity. Experts in the field are not judged by their many victories but the rare defeats because they come with serious consequences to the public.

We would however argue that this incident is a confirmation that our systems are vulnerable and susceptible to infiltration.
If Lesotho’s banking sector thought this was a distant problem, now it’s at their doorstep and they will have to beat the criminals at their own game.
Yet this is not an institutional but a national issue.

Today it is the financial system and tomorrow it could be the power grid, the water system or the telecommunications system.
The powers that we should view the attack on the Central Bank as a sign of more to come.

The danger is real. As such, it is up to the government to step up its efforts to protect the country from cyber criminals both local and international.

The cyber law should not only be fast-tracked but also tightened to deal with criminals. There should be an instant drive to build the country’s skills and capacity to deal with cybersecurity issues.

We have been warned and we should be forearmed.

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