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Building Trust 27 February 2017

If you’re at Mobile World Congress, Internet security is your business

Dawit Bekele
By Dawit BekeleRegional Bureau Director, Africa

This week the mobile industry will meet at their annual gathering in Barcelona and I am excited to be there. Mobile has changed my life as it has changed that of the 63% of the world population. For the last two decades, I and billions of people around the world have been able to be reached by others and to reach others almost anytime and anywhere. This was unimaginable just three decades ago.

Mobile has also become the method of choice to access the Internet. In fact, very often it is the only method to access the Internet. Without mobile technology, it would have been impossible to reach internet access rates close to 30% in Africa within just a few years.

Moreover, mobile Internet has brought new applications unimaginable just a few years back transforming our economies. Just imagine what mobile Internet has achieved around the world. Today, whether you are in New York, Johannesburg or Nairobi, you don’t need anyone’s help to get an order for your airport transportation since your Uber app will find for you a driver that you can trust and at a price cheaper than a regular taxi.  This has opened new opportunities for international but also local companies, including in the developing world, transforming our economies probably as never before.

However, these opportunities are in great danger by the increasing erosion of trust on the Internet. In the last few years, we have seen event after event that degrades the trust that users have on the Internet. Large-scale surveillance by governments, increasing number of data breaches, use, and abuse of users’ data by private companies, etc. These events have endangered the privacy and security of user and have created an increasing amount of mistrust which, if it continues to grow, can be a major hindrance for the development of Internet in the world and its contribution to the development of our economies.

Therefore, increasing trust on the Internet should be a priority of the Internet industry but also the mobile industry since the two are intertwined. As the saying goes, “trust is like a mirror” and if we lose it, it will be very difficult to bring it back.

People in both industries must work together to make sure that trust on the Internet is not irreparably compromised.

If you work in mobile or Internet industry here are 3 things you can do:

1. Make sure that people in both sectors implement the best practices.

In the coming days, the Internet Society and the African Union will release the “Guidelines on Internet Infrastructure Security for Africa” which will recommend a number of concrete steps for that continental organisations, African countries, ISPs, and organisation can take to make the Internet safer. These actions include identification and protection of Critical Internet Infrastructure, establishing and strengthening National Level Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs), establishing Baseline Security for organisations and establishing and maintaining cooperation and collaboration at all levels.

2. Businesses must protect the data of their customers.

The perception of invasion of their privacy is also a major reason why an increasing number of Internet users are losing trust on the Internet. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find people who refuse to put their data online and go back to the old paper just because they don’t trust the Internet. The perception of invasion of their privacy is also a major reason why an increasing number of Internet users are losing trust on the Internet. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find people who refuse to put their data online and go back to the old paper just because they don’t trust the organisations who will save their data. Many users believe that those organisations will either abuse their data by using it for purposes that they have not authorised (or have been coerced to authorise by accepting lengthy service agreements that are virtually unreadable). They are also afraid that their data are not well secured creating a major risk for their data to be stolen by the now rampant online criminals.

3. Know that when it comes to online security, everyone has a role to play.

Even those content and Internet service providers have a major role to play, security or privacy should not be left to them alone. Almost everybody has a role to play. Technology providers such as Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that develops Internet Standards should work the make the technology more secure. Regulators and policy makers should encourage technologies and practices that increase trust such as encryption and not discourage or limit their use. They should also refrain from practices such as pervasive surveillance and illegal activities. Even users must learn how to make themselves and other internet users more secure by using simple tools such as antiviruses, encryption, and digital signatures.

For Africa, this is an extraordinary moment where there is Internet access reaching a third of the population and in some countries, much more. The opportunities are only limited by the imagination of the people. However, unless the Internet is trusted by the users, all those opportunities might just be illusions. I, therefore, hope that all the concerned stakeholders from regional organisations to end users will work to increase trust on the Internet for the benefit of all.

If you’re at Mobile World Congress and would like to meet, please contact me at bekele@isoc.org

Image credit: official GSMA photographer.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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