Nigerian Human Rights Group Fights Cybercrime with Brain Power

The Human Rights and Justice Group International (HRJGI)in Nigeria, is running an innovative project under the banner of the Campaign Against Cybercrime (CAC) that seeks to utilize the power of ICT to combat cybercrime.

by / May 7, 2008

Even if you are lucky not to have been a direct victim of cybercrime, you're definitely not spared from countless unsolicited emails with too-good- to-be-true offers that swamp your inbox daily. It is hard to imagine that anyone is fooled by this spam any more, but the fact is that organized criminals are using cyberspace more and more for illicit profit and much of this crime -- especially the letter or email frauds -- originate from Nigeria.

This West African nation, the most populous country in Africa, which has been infamous for crime and corruption for years, has become a hotbed of Internet crime over the past few years. According to the latest report of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) run by the FBI, Nigeria features third (behind USA and UK) in the list of top-10 perpetrators of cybercrimes. However, when it comes to fleecing unsuspecting victims online through spam emails and misrepresentations, Nigeria appears to supersede all others. In fact, so huge is the volume of letter fraud originating from the country that IC3 even describes all scam letters or emails as 'Nigerian Letter Scams'.

The reason Nigeria has emerged as the weakest link in the global battle against cybercrime is not because the Nigerian government and its enforcements authorities are aware of the crimes emanating from the country, nor that they choose to overlook the malaise. Rather, the problem is that both the government and the enforcement authorities there suffer from what experts call "an IT security divide".

"Fighting cybercrime requires not just IT knowledge, but IT intelligence on the part of the security agencies," says Jide Awe, the founder Jidaw Systems Ltd., one of the leading human resource and ICT training firms in Africa. "In this crime arena, there is a serious shortage of skills to deal with the threats associated with IT. Security agencies [in Nigeria] need to be equipped with the skills, the know-how and the insight necessary to fight cybercrime effectively."

The good news on the horizon is that there is an effort now to fill this void. A Lagos, Nigeria-based non-governmental and not-for-profit voluntary initiative, the Human Rights and Justice Group International (HRJGI), is running an innovative project under the banner of the Campaign Against Cybercrime (CAC). This seeks to utilize the power of ICT to make "intelligence" an effective tool for combating cybercrime.

"The basic objective of the CAC is securing the fundamental rights of Internet users", says Prince Devison Nze, the program coordinator at the Human Rights and Justice Group International. "In that pursuit CAC acts a platform for redressal of Internet crimes for the people of Nigeria and around the world."

CAC's overall goal is to act as a reporting and referral system for cybercrime complaints from both victims and law enforcement agencies. Using tools like email, SMS, fax, and mobile telephony, the project networks and collaborates with law enforcement agencies and other organizations to track down fraudsters.

"While the Nigerian Government and the country's enforcement agencies are extremely proactive in battling cybercrimes, perpetrators of such crimes continue to thrive because most escape the enforcements agencies' radar," says Devison.

"We help these agencies track cybercriminals with our ICT abilities like locating the origin of email, tracking the number of item purchased with stolen credit cards, identifying real owners of credit cards, bank of issuance, destination of the items, and the likes," he adds.

HRJGI claims that to enable tracking, it even developed its own technology called NijaTech. This is an information platform that not only receives and refers criminal complaints to enforcement agencies, but by combining existing digital technologies, it tries to pinpoint the whereabouts of the criminals including the IP addresses used, and the originating and terminating destinations of fraudulent transactions.

But technology is not its only tool. "We use the power of networking as well," says Devison. He says CAC has roped in KABISSA -- a US-based network of African civil society organizations -- and two other similar organizations, Switzerland's Women's World Summit Foundation and Nigeria's Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform.

This networking helps CAC in it advocacy work as well as report and petition assistance on behalf of victims of cybercrimes to various law enforcement agencies around the orld. Additionally, it also helps in providing the media with information on cyber crime in Nigeria.

HRJGI claims that since CAC's inception in 2005, the effort has prevented over half a million dollars worth of fraudulent shipments to Nigeria. In most cases, the illicit transactions have been intercepted online at the nick of time.

Moreover, CAC has also been able to identify and track "many other cases" where investigations are still underway. "In all the instances the Internet and other ICT tools have played a vital role in identifying and even nabbing the perpetrators," says Devison.

However, CAC faces a few challenges. Clearly being a not-for-profit NGO, the biggest challenge is funding. The project subsists on funding from HRJGI and donations, which are hardly ever enough. Apart from funding, the other obstacles include infrastructural inadequacies -- like power and lack of ICT facilities -- to reach the rural communities in Nigeria and in other developing nations.

Non-acceptance of the existence of Internet fraud and the concept of cybercrime is another major challenge. "It is surprising that in many instances, the victims of Internet fraud simply refuse to accept that they have been cheated by Internet criminals. This lack of awareness still makes many online business operators easy victims of the scammers," says Devison

Then there threats as well. Often the CAC project coordinators are threatened in phone calls and text messages, pushed to drop the cases they are pursuing or referring to law enforcement agencies.

Which is why, says Devison, this effort needs support and co-operation from governmental agencies, law enforcement agents and other similar organization from all around the world if it is to pursue the "cause effectively." And to attract such support, HRJGI claims that it is putting in place a managerial team not only to improve efficiency in service delivery but also to seek "networking, partners and global collaborations".

Such collaborations, Devison adds, will not only help CAC, but it could also spark the formation of similar small community-based groups elsewhere in the world that can replicate project's efforts.

Indrajit Basu is the international correspondent for Government Technology's Digital Communities.