By James Gashumba

East Africa is fast-tracking the implementation of joint initiatives to combat the rising challenge of cross-border cyber crimes that threaten peace and stability in the region.

Government officials say the region is vulnerable to a range of online criminal activities, including financial fraud, drug and human trafficking, and terrorism.

“There is need to develop a common platform to address cyber security. As a region, we must begin to cooperate to deal with cyber threats at national and regional level,” Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Information Ministry Dr Bitange Ndemo said at an East African Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya .

The East African nation has scaled up efforts to combat cyber crimes through a multi-stakeholder approach involving the government, industry and civil society organizations.

“Kenya has a national cyber security steering committee hosted by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). The law enforcement agencies and industry players are included in this initiative,” Ndemo said.

He regretted cyber crimes have significantly reversed gains made by higher internet penetration in Kenya. The country has taken a lead role in galvanising regional efforts to fight cyber crimes.

According to Ndemo, a cyber security management task force chaired by Kenya has been coordinating activities aimed at curbing cyber crimes in the five East African Community member states.

The taskforce deals with cyber security at legal, policy and regulatory level. Cyber attacks are a recurrent phenomenon in the East Africa due to infrastructural, legal and policy loopholes, he explained.

Chris Mulola, the president of the Internet Society of Rwanda made reference to a study done by an international auditing firm, Deloitte and Touche, which revealed that 60 per cent of East African banks were susceptible to cyber crimes. The estimated cost of combined threats of cyber crimes to financial institutions in the region was estimated at 245 million US dollars.

He called for the establishment of entities to monitor and report cyber crimes across borders. “Lawmakers must also be involved to help pass legislation that addresses cyber threats at all levels,” Mulola said.

Capacity building, cooperation with law enforcement agencies and linkages with internet service providers, telecommunication operators and software suppliers have bolstered efforts to curb cyber threats, according to experts.

Kenya has taken the lead by establishing national computer emergency response teams endorsed by all East African Countries. The focus is on research to improve security of existing systems while monitoring cyber security events globally.