CYBER SECURITY IS AN INVESTMENT, NOT AN EXPENSE, UCC ED TELLS CEOs

KAMPALA: 12-04-2022 – The Ag. Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, challenged CEOs of telecommunication companies to consider cybersecurity as an investment rather than an expense.

The Ag. ED made the remarks during the 2nd Annual CEO Cybersecurity Breakfast, which was attended by the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) Secretary General, John Omo, among others, at the UCC head office on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

“One of the things we hope to achieve from this CEO Breakfast is that the CEOs start to appreciate that they shouldn’t look at cybersecurity as an expense but as an investment,” Ms Kaggwa Sewankambo said.

“You are investing in security the same way you invest in a boundary wall or burglar proofing for your house,” she added.

The just ended CEO Cybersecurity Breakfast, whose theme was, “Cybersecurity for Mobile Financial Services in the Telecommunication Sector: A Growing Challenge”, was the second to be held since the inaugural event in April 2019.

The meeting, which brings together CEOs to deliberate on cybersecurity, couldn’t be held in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This year’s edition was attended by key players in the telecommunications and banking sectors, including Bank of Uganda Executive Director Supervision Twinemanzi Tumubweinee, the CEO of MTN Uganda Wim Vanhelleputte, and his Airtel Uganda counterpart Manoj Murali.

In her remarks, the Ag. ED noted that digitisation of financial services provides great opportunities but also comes with risk that must be managed.

“Whereas the growth in digital services is a step in the desired direction, on the other hand it broadens the landscape for cyber criminals to operate,” she said, adding that this leads to reputational loss and erosion of public confidence in these services.

The Ag. ED called for a collaborative approach in tackling the challenge, saying it can’t be left to Government, the telecommunication sector, the banking sector, or consumers alone.

“We need to work together, Government and the private sector, share experiences and expertise, and also encourage sharing of information among CEOs,” she said.

The ATU Secretary General concurred with the Ag. ED on the need to bring everybody onboard, emphasizing the importance of consumers in cybersecurity management.  

“As we talk cybersecurity, it’s not just the security of our networks but the security of the consumer; they are more demanding and increasingly holding us to account, quite separate from the regulators,” Mr. Omo said.

He further called on the private sector to “inculcate and agree on certain basic norms, minimum standards against which we can be held to account, not just by regulators but by fellow network operators, to ensure that truly networks are secure not just for ourselves but for the community in which we operate.”

The highlight of the two-hour engagement was a panel discussion involving the Ag. ED UCC, Airtel and MTN CEOs, the Bank of Uganda Executive Director Supervision, Wilbrod Owor, Executive Director Uganda Bankers Association, and Josephine Olok, chairperson Financial Technologies Service Providers Association (FITSPA).

Responding to a question posed by the panel’s moderator, Christine Ntabadde Mugimba, the Director of ICT and Research at UCC, the MTN CEO observed that the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain is the human being.

He explained that fraud has existed since time immemorial but what has changed is the emergence of a digital form of social engineering.

“What we are facing is some extremely smart fraudsters who have, not just a degree in engineering but also a degree in psychology, and they manage to deceive you and trap you into doing something that consciously you would never do,” the MTN CEO said.

To tackle the challenge, Mr. Vanhelleputte revealed that MTN Uganda had teamed up with Airtel Uganda and other members of their newly formed mobile money association, to raise consumer awareness.

“We are going to embark on a very aggressive campaign of education of the consumer: Don’t share your PIN, number one golden rule of security! PIN is Personal Identification Number; you don’t share it with anybody,” he said, adding: “It is not going to solve everything, but it is going to solve majority of the challenges that we are facing.”

His Airtel counterpart, Mr. Murali, agreed on the need to educate the consumer, adding rather succinctly, that “this weapon in your hand, the SIM, can be more dangerous than any other weapon that you can think of.”

Notwithstanding the persistence of cyber threats in the digital financial ecosystem, the telecom CEOs concurred that fraud opportunities have reduced. 

The MTN CEO praised UCC for overseeing what he described as one of the most sophisticated, efficient SIM registration models in the world, which he said had “drastically and significantly” reduced fraud opportunities.

“You can’t buy a SIM card in Uganda without a national ID, a genuine national ID with biometric verification of the fingerprint. It is sophisticated,” Mr. Vanhelleputte said.

“It shows that good regulation works, it might be painful for the operators and the customers to implement, but once we have a level playing field, it works.”

The Airtel MD shared the view that fraud has reduced, hastening to add, however, that the telcos must remain one step ahead of the fraudsters.

“We have seen a massive reduction in fraud in our system but if you ask me if it is zero, it’s not, so we are continuously on a path to really understand from the mind of the guy who does the fraud, what is he is going to do next time,” he said.

On his part, Dr. Twinemanzi said Bank of Uganda had prioritized cybersecurity by removing it from the general category of risk and reclassifying it as a unique risk that must be tackled outside the normal operational risk scope.

As for Mr. Owor, cyber risk can’t be eliminated completely but through working together and sharing information, its impact can be mitigated so that it doesn’t undermine confidence in the financial system.

Ms Olok, whose association boasts of 180 financial technology service providers, said members face challenges that include identity theft, social engineering, and phishing.

The breakfast meeting was also addressed online by Mr. Bilel Jamoussi, Chief of Study Groups Department, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who made a presentation on ITU and Digital Financial Services.

In October 2017, Uganda launched the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (2017-2022), and one of the focus areas was to build efficient digital infrastructure.

Over the years, the FINTECH industry has evolved to include personal finance, payments and billing, lending, Insutech (insurance), money transfers and remittances, blockchain for crypto currencies and exchanges, capital markets, wealth management, mortgage, real estate and Regtech (audit, risk, and regulatory compliance).

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