SA on precipice of being declared cybercrime capital of Africa

People should not be sending copies of their IDs on the internet, via social media, this opens them up to scammers. Photo: EPA.

People should not be sending copies of their IDs on the internet, via social media, this opens them up to scammers. Photo: EPA.

Published Jun 2, 2024


By: Nicola Mawson

Unknowingly, people often leave their digital fingerprints all over the internet, through surfing and downloading free software, which leaves them open to being attacked by cyber criminals.

South Africa, said Craig Pedersen, director at TCG Forensics, is on the verge of being considered the cybercrime capital of Africa, and the only way to stop this is by having a top-down approach and through more education.

A digital fingerprint is the information people leave about themselves on the internet based on their online activity.

Speaking at the recent Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) International Fraud Summit, Pedersen said information that is gathered includes your physical connection address (internet protocol address), your browser type, computer build information, and screen resolution.

Digital fingerprints, according to Pedersen, are used on the internet for a multitude of things, such as logging into your Amazon Prime account, iTunes, and as a behavioural analysis to understand how users move from one website to another.

When data breaches happen, it’s very easy to find the information that has been made available, such as names, cellphone and ID numbers, and addresses, said Pedersen.

In addition, he says, it’s possible to find someone’s phone number online, look at their Facebook page and get additional information, and then map their information to other sources that can reveal additional habits, opening people up to social engineering risks. “It's just down to the technical ability to work with datasets, really … There's a lot of useful information.”

Ways to limit your chances of being hacked and having your identity stolen, along with other cybercrimes, include using a VPN, said Pedersen.

A Virtual Private Network masks your IP address and makes it look like you are based somewhere else, giving you more privacy.

At the same time, said Pedersen, people on the internet should stay away from free games, services, and downloads to keep themselves safe.

Even Gmail is a risk if people aren’t using two-step authentication because it is often the key to someone’s entire identity, he said.

Google allows surfers on Chrome to store passwords, and these can be stolen if someone is able to get into your Google profile, which is linked to Gmail.

Cookies and caches on a PC should be cleared on a regular basis as some of these are able to monitor browsing activity, said Pedersen.

It has become commonplace for online shops to place targeted ads on other websites based on what you looked for in their store.

“We need to all be a little bit more private and privacy centric,” said Pedersen. Internet surfers need to consider why they are keeping cookies, he said.

In addition, Pedersen said, people should not be sending copies of their IDs on the internet, via social media, or apps such as WhatsApp because this opens them up to scammers.

“Treat your identity document with respect. You do not have to give everybody a copy,” said Pedersen.

Again, the key point is to look at why someone would need it. For example, a car mechanic would have no need to keep such a document on record, he said.