Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola | Norms ‘to guide conduct in cyberspace’ underway

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola | Norms ‘to guide conduct in cyberspace’ underway

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola | Norms ‘to guide conduct in cyberspace’ underway

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Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, the Nigerian cyber security expert who was named Commissioner at Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) has told Technology Times that the body is developing norms to guide conduct on the Internet.

Ajijola was recently named as part Commissioners for the Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace, says GCSC is keenly working towards developing standards that should be adhered to in cyberspace.

Ajijola, the Executive Chairman of Consultancy Support Services (CS2), a Nigerian IT Consultancy, told Technology Times in an exclusive interview in Lagos that “one of the core purposes of the Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace is to develop what we call norms for cyberspace.”

The proposed norms would define “how things should be done and how we should operate in cyberspace. For example, in cyberspace, there are equivalences to physical space. When you have challenges in physical space, let’s say a war, there are certain norms; you don’t attack hospitals. You don’t attack schools.

“You don’t attack elderly. You don’t attack women and children. You don’t attack deformed. I am not saying that people don’t, the norms are that you shouldn’t. You should give the Red Cross the opportunity to go in and rescue. What we are saying is that we need to develop equivalents in cyberspace.”

Ajijola says that “for example, you will not go and attack an infrastructure that will jeopardise a hospital. You don’t go and cripple an infrastructure that powers a modern digital city. Basically, it will take you back to the Stone Age. We are just trying to explore ‘what could these norms be?’ ‘What should they be? And of course, we must develop how to enforce them.”

The GCSC Commissioner believes that setting these standards will directly spell out the crimes and will therefore help to determine when a crime is committed.  “If you have a standard set for the norm, then you can make a determination whether somebody is violating it or not.”

Ajijola, the Executive Chairman of Consultancy Support Services (CS2), a Nigerian IT Consultancy, told Technology Times in an exclusive interview in Lagos that “one of the core purposes of the Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace is to develop what we call norms for cyberspace.”

Technology Times file photo shows Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, the Nigerian cyber security expert who was named Commissioner at the Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC)
Technology Times file photo shows Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola, the Nigerian cyber security expert who was named Commissioner at the Global Commission for the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC)

According to him, “how do you know somebody has gone too far if you don’t set the edge so you have to at least have that setting and you will be surprised that cyber criminals, cyber spies, cyber bad people, they are humans and you will be shocked that if they understand that certain things are norms, not all of them, but many of them will actually adhere to those norms.”

Following his appointment as a Commissioner on the global Internet body, Ajijola’s desire is to be the mouthpiece of not just Nigerians, but Africans.

“I will like everybody who reads this, hears this, listen to this and somehow interacts with what we are saying today to please understand that this appointment is not for me. It is for us. I plan to, God willing, to be able to set up some kind of mechanisms whereby I can receive feedback not just from people like you, but also from others so that I can simply be your mouthpiece at that table.

“To be able to say ‘look, this is the perspective of Black Africa; this is the perspective of the Developing World because there are many of these decisions that are taken in Europe and North America that don’t factor the rest of the world. We don’t have a voice. So, for me, this is the opportunity for me to be the mouthpiece for those ‘voiceless.’ That is what I look forward to.”

Speaking further on his new role, Ajijola says that, “in terms of specific projects, right now, the state we are now is that we are trying to define issues to research into and of course there will be a lot of research opportunities for Nigerians, for Africans, for people of the Developing World.

“One of the challenges we face is that, for example, an international organisation based in let’s say the U.S. decides ‘these are our standards and our norms’ but those standards and norms cannot conform to our own perceptions and realities in Africa. That’s why we need that voice at the table.

“That is what I see my job as because when they set those standards, whether you have been part of it or not, they would say you must follow. You know whenever you log on to some social media or even new software; they would say here is the agreement. If you don’t agree, you can’t use it.

“To be able to say ‘look, this is the perspective of Black Africa; this is the perspective of the Developing World because there are many of these decisions that are taken in Europe and North America that don’t factor the rest of the world. We don’t have a voice. So, for me, this is the opportunity for me to be the mouthpiece for those ‘voiceless.’ That is what I look forward to.”

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola
Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola

“Now, let’s say one of those things for example is that ‘when you are talking to your parents, you must look them in the eye. In Africa, we don’t do that. So as at the time those agreements are being formulated, you need to just say that is how the European or the North American does it. That is not our way so please factor our thinking and our perspective into setting those norms and standards.”

For Ajijola, “that, I feel is the long-term benefit that my role can bring. That does not mean as one is sitting down in those meetings, for example, our first meeting has been in Munich. The second meeting is in Berkeley, California; the third meeting is in Singapore. The fourth meeting is going to take place in Hyderabad in India. That doesn’t mean one will not be making contacts and connections.

“That doesn’t mean one will not be learning. That doesn’t mean that one cannot use those contacts and connections and insights and learning to open opportunities, but I am not opening opportunities simply for Nigerians, I want us to look at it as Africans, as people from the Developing World.

“I want us to think bigger than simply ourselves because we shouldn’t simply think of being excellent in Nigeria. We must be globally excellent. We must look at our market as global. If somebody in Yaba is developing an app for example, the app is not only for Surulere, the app is for the world. So we must be world class”, Ajijola says underscoring what he aims to achieve leveraging his new role.

Speaking on cybercrime in Nigeria and measures that can be put in place by institutions to reduce, if possible avert criminal attacks, Ajijola believes that one “cannot avoid cyber attack. It’s going to happen. The bad guys do not sleep. In fact, a very good friend of mine famously said and I want you to note, ‘cyber criminals operate at the speed of light, law enforcements operate at the speed of law.’

“So, there is a natural mismatch. Once you understand that and you appreciate it, then it means that if you are law enforcement, you have to be a bit more proactive. You have to be able to get ready, so that you can react faster; so that you can pre-empt; so that you can anticipate, because you know that the law is slow by nature and it has to be slow because if it is too fast, it will make mistakes.”

Ajijola, whose experiences cut across the private and public sector and as a former tech adviser to Nigeria’s National Security Adviser further, delves into the issue of cyber crime.

“Innocent people will get convicted and you want to avoid that. But that doesn’t mean that we should wait until disaster. Like I said earlier, Noah did not build the ark when it was raining; he built it before the rain came. We need to build our safety cyber security ark now. Are people doing anything about it?’ I would answer very quickly, ‘yes’.

“I would say most of our major financial institutions have significant cyber security investments. Is it enough? No. And when I say it’s not enough, investment doesn’t always mean money. Money is important but there are other investments. For example, ‘does the board of Directors take cyber security seriously enough to focus on it? Because as they say, if ‘oga at the top’ is focusing on it, everybody down the line will take it as important so it’s more than just cash expenditure.

“I would say most of our major financial institutions have significant cyber security investments. Is it enough? No. And when I say it’s not enough, investment doesn’t always mean money. Money is important but there are other investments. For example, ‘does the board of Directors take cyber security seriously enough to focus on it? Because as they say, if ‘oga at the top’ is focusing on it, everybody down the line will take it as important so it’s more than just cash expenditure.

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola
Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola

“Government itself, by nature, is a bit slow but to be fair to government, for example, government has the Cybercrime Act. Despite its problems, at least, something is there. Two, government has a National Cyber Security Strategy. Despite its problems, it exists. Government has the National Cyber Security Policy. These are things that have been officially adopted by the President of this country.”

According to Ajijola, “it doesn’t matter which President, the point is, at the highest level, they have been accepted, they are official. So despite whatever flaws you may have with it; it exists. Of course, our typical problem sometimes is proper implementation but I just want the people participating in our chat today to understand that it is not zero. Things have happened. Things are happening. Things continue to happen.”

The GCSC Commissioner also shares his perspectives with Technology Times on the issue of trust in the Nigerian e-commerce landscape and how the desired level of trust can be built to drive growth in the sector.

“We have to understand that trust is not picked up or given, trust is earned. For example, you put your money in Bank A because you trust it. Maybe the systems they have in place; maybe the insurance they have to cover your money; maybe the track record they have”, he says adding that these are the key elements that build trust.

Ajijola has these words for Nigeria’s growing developer ecosystem: “to our developers, our software developers, our apps developers, you have to build cyber security thinking into the design. Today, for example, you go to your typical ATM. What language does it speak? The English language and some of them speak French but none of them speak local languages, bearing in mind that many of our people actually are not what I will call ‘functional illiterates’, therefore, even language is a problem but they can work with pictures.

“You will not park your car or your motorcycle or your Keke Napep or even your bicycle somewhere without locking it. You will not leave your phone open without some kind of lock. These are common sense things. So we now have to apply that same level of common sense in the cyber world. For example, you will not give your password to anybody, you shouldn’t. It’s your signature.

 

Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola
Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola

“You design something for not the lowest common denominator but lower common denominators. So I am saying that the issue of cyber security and trust must be built in right from conception and design. Then of course, in development process, you have to use what are established best practices. It is like your home. None of us will leave our house; take those of us who live in Lagos, without locking the door.

“You will not park your car or your motorcycle or your Keke Napep or even your bicycle somewhere without locking it. You will not leave your phone open without some kind of lock. These are common sense things. So we now have to apply that same level of common sense in the cyber world. For example, you will not give your password to anybody, you shouldn’t. It’s your signature.

“If somebody takes your password and logs in to your account and then sends a very rude and nasty email to your oga, you are responsible. It’s you your oga will sack, not the person who sent it because as far he is concerned, it’s from you. We also have to be able to understand responsibility and that was in issues relating to things like e-commerce, it takes time. That trust has to be built.”

Ajijola goes further to buttress this when he says that, “it’s going to happen to the extent that e-commerce, it is not only here to stay, it is here to grow. We have no choice but to get into it. The question is: is it going to be locally-driven e-commerce or internationally driven?’ If the local e-commerce is not going to be trusted, there is an alternative. I can just as well buy ‘my garri in Ghana or India as much as I can get it in Nigeria.’

“It’s a global market so even back to what I said you have to be globally competitive. You have to be globally trusted. You have to be able to use the same trust mechanism and standards that anybody in California or Singapore uses. It cannot be ‘let us manage it.’ Manage doesn’t work in cyberspace.”

Elizabeth Edozie Technology Journalist @Technology Times 08077671659 elizabeth.edozie@technologytimes.ng

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