The UK and South Africa working together to tackle a global threat to make citizens safer online
By Victoria White, First Secretary (Cyber), British High Commission Pretoria and Peter Goodman, Strategic Advisor to the UK Digital Access Programme
Cyberspace continues to revolutionise the way we all live, work and play and with it comes great opportunity for economic prosperity, job creation and technological innovation to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges such as tackling COVID-19, which has been a shared challenge across the world. With these great opportunities we must all be alive to the threat that accompanies it, namely cybercrime. Much like the coronavirus, cybercrime does not recognise or respect geographical borders which it is why it is crucial that countries work together to tackle it, but also to learn from one another. The Transnet attack on the Port of Durban during July 2021 is a stark and shocking reminder of the havoc a cyberattack can wreak on a piece of critical national infrastructure with huge ramifications for the economy. These crimes are not victimless - they cause real harm to people and businesses which are often profound and lasting.
Cybercrime is an evolving threat that is growing in complexity. It spans state and state-sponsored actors, serious organised crime groups and criminals see-king to profit by defrauding citizens and businesses online.
In May 2021, Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary and Dr Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, agreed that the UK and South Africa should foster a closer partnership which included working together to tackle cybercrime. Through the UK’s flagship Digital Access Programme (cybilportal.org), the UK plans to build capacity, teach and share investigative techniques and capability with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI). But, most importantly it wishes to learn from the mistakes that the UK has made along the way so that South Africa can benefit from this shared knowledge as it begins the task of operationalising the Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020.
Peter Goodman, the United Kingdom’s ex-National Chief Lead on Cybercrime for law enforcement, outlines the UK journey to building the cybercrime fighting capability that it now has, and encourages South Africa to learn from some of the mistakes the UK made along the way. “It was a marathon and a war of attrition, this work does not happen overnight but with clear strategic vision and using international best practise, South Africa can achieve a credible cybercrime fighting capability,” he said.
The UK’s cyber journey
The UK’s journey began in 2010 when cybercrime was established as a Tier One National Security Threat. As such, it became a standing agenda item at the National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister; this, in turn, meant that UK law enforcement would have access to some of the resources and funding required to tackle their greatest national security threats (https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/national-security-council). In 2011, the UK published its first ever National Cyber Security Strategy (UK Cabinet Office, 2011). This was the first time that cybercrime featured as part of any UK national strategy. The response to cybercrime was focused around the same four “Ps” that had underpinned the counter-terrorism (CONTEST) strategy, namely Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/counter-terrorism-strategy-contest).
This led to the UK’s first mistake as UK law enforcement looked at the threat of cybercrime in its purest sense as a cyber-dependent crime, namely a computer required to attack other computers.