One of the bigger threats South Africa currently faces is the loss of valuable information due to cyber attacks. Picture: Supplied
One of the bigger threats South Africa currently faces is the loss of valuable information due to cyber attacks. Picture: Supplied

SA faces a different kind of terror in the form of cyber attacks

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 5, 2021

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By Lucky Masilela

In 1988, Vryheid-born and Umlazi-raised Busi Mbhele (then Mhlongo) was a final-year student at Amanzimtoti College of Education just south of Durban, training to become a Geography and English teacher. I was living outside the country, and apartheid South Africa was about to start the transition to democracy.

The Fourth Generation of computers were driven by very large-scale integration (VLSI) and microprocessors, semiconductor Random Access Memory (RAM) and were speaking programming languages like Python and Java.

One year before the Internet as we know it was born, ZA Central Registry (ZACR) was created.

Initially called UniForum SA, ZACR was created to promote open standards systems and related hardware, software applications and standards. Its first principal mandate was to administer the “.co.za” domain namespace.

Since then, this forward-looking entity has grown from its 400 domain names to over 1,3 million under “.co.za”, and many others under “.africa”, “.org.za”, “.net.za” and namespaces for major cities like Joburg, Cape Town and Durban.

A far cry from when the government of South Africa was fighting off freedom-fighters in 1988, the country is now facing a different kind of terror - cyber attacks like the Pegasus.

In 1988, security forces were fighting off marchers as well demonstrators and right in the thick of hostel violence. Today, they are being deployed to quell looting outbreaks, but everybody knows that the bigger threat will always be the loss of valuable information.

ZACR has become part of an ICT ecosystem that is seized with the concerns like whether or not one complies with the regulations of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) while fulfilling their public service mandate of making processing important data under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Losing one’s car is not as scary as losing their One-Time Password (OTP) to release millions between two accounts and across national borders without leaving their bed. Covid-19 brought into sharp focus in March 2020 the inequality of access to fast, reliable and affordable data to enable children to learn, teachers to teach, outlets of social services like hospitals and Home Affairs offices to deliver uninterrupted support. Healthcare professionals are working hard to render services without physical contact, which once again highlights the critical importance of Internet connectivity to make e-health and e-medicine possible.

Back in KwaZulu-Natal, Busi Mbhele is no longer a Geography teacher, but has had to evolve into a Computer Applications Technology educator. It is for people like her, at Chesterville Secondary School, that ZACR and dotAfrica continue to strive to deliver services beyond just domain-name administration; but to increase access to reliable Internet connectivity.

To date, our intervention at this school has made it possible to nearly 1,500 high school learners to receive education, complete their assignments and position themselves to operate in the 5G era.

In looking ahead to the next 33 years, ZACR hopes to continue contributing to the 21st century revolution: ICT revolution for better living, dignity and equality.

*Lucky Masilela is the CEO of ZA Central Registry.

**The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Star or Independent Media.

The Star

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