Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cashless Society in Nigeria: A Game of Soccer without a Keeper

Thu, 11/08/2012 - 09:50 -- Sylvanus Agbo
Written By: 
Shafii Abdulhamid

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s policy to join other developed economies in operating cashless society had been received with so many commendations from both within and outside the country. In my own candid opinion, the CBN Governor and the Economic Team need to be supported to actualise this great idea and also they should be praise for their foresight and courage to take this bold step.  For Nigeria to join the league of cashless economies is something that is inevitable, in short is just a matter of time. So it is better for the country to strategise and join consciously, than to be seated waiting for the wind of change to take us in subconsciously!

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s policy to join other developed economies in operating cashless society had been received with so many commendations from both within and outside the country. In my own candid opinion, the CBN Governor and the Economic Team need to be supported to actualise this great idea and also they should be praise for their foresight and courage to take this bold step.  For Nigeria to join the league of cashless economies is something that is inevitable, in short is just a matter of time. So it is better for the country to strategise and join consciously, than to be seated waiting for the wind of change to take us in subconsciously!
Technically, a cashless transaction has to do with electronic means of payment through the cyberspace without the use of physical cash as a legal tender. This transaction is usually carried out by the use of credit or debit cards at Point of Sales (PoS), internet banking, mobile banking or even ATM terminals. If a customer wants to make a payment for goods or services, the customer needs to insert his card into a machine or enter his card details including the personal identification number (PIN). Then the money will be deducted electronically from the customer’s account through the networks to the account of the receiver which is residing somewhere in a secure database. No physical cash involve. Everything here is based on trust! Everyone involve in this type of transaction must trust and depend on the system to make the right deductions from the debtor’s account and also remit the right amount into the creditor’s account. You and I have no control over this! But that is not even the issue I want to point out here.
Sony which is a purely ICT Company with international reputations lost about $3.2billion which is equivalent to about N512billion after its PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment services were hacked just recently. The personal data from more than 100 million accounts were reportedly compromised in the security breach. This amount is more than the estimated revenue to be generated in Lagos state N399.8billion in 2012. Looking further also shows that the said amount is more than the budget of the same state in the same year, which is N491.9billion. I am using Lagos state as an example because its economy generates more revenue than any other state in the Federation and it was used by the CBN to pilot test the cashless policy before implementing it nationwide. This type of attack occurs every day over the cyberspace, some were reported, some not reported and others even passed unnoticed. But still, someone may wonder, what is it that I am trying to bring out in this write-up? And I can easily answer that in one word; security. This is because you cannot play the game of soccer without a keeper!
The target of most malicious hackers is to steal personal information such as credit card numbers, or to conduct banking transactions without authorized permission. In addition, they could commit identification (ID) fraud by falsely presenting stolen identification to impersonate victims in exchange of goods and services in this virtual cashless economy. These misconducts could cause huge losses and creditability damage to innocent victims. Shhh… before you dismiss this information as being only a foreign trick, you should remember that seated third in the world ranking of cybercrimes for three consecutive years is my beloved country Nigeria! But more importantly, we should always bear it at the back of our minds that the cyberspace does not have respect for national boundaries and is not restricted by geographical locations. A hacker may be relaxing at the comfort of his living room in California or in the Chinese city of Hong Kong and still penetrate the so called secured databases in the CBN at Abuja. Now the question is how secure is our databases and our cyberspace in general to embark on cashless economy? Do we really have the equipments and expertise in cyber forensic and network penetration testing to police and prevent our cashless society? Do we really have adequate laws to prosecute offenders when they are eventually caught? These are the questions that are still begging for answers.
Last year, the National Assembly eventually passed into law the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) and the Nigerian media whom we all know supported it in totality jubilated and sang the victory song. It is of cause a remarkable achievement, but what many people need to understand is that information is now mostly in electronic form.  For example, in a cashless economy, instead of carrying the notes or coins, you carry its equivalent information in a chip. Therefore, to me passing the FoI into law is just half work done. The other half that I consider to be the most important is the Cybercrime Bill, which is there at the National Assembly covered with dust! Unless and until the National Assembly dusted and pass the Cybercrime Bill into law as well, we can not prosecute the criminal minded hackers, and the cashless economy will continue to remain very porous to attacks. It is therefore important to mention here that our present Nigerian laws do not recognise electronic evidence and the only way to prosecute cybercriminals is to use the Economics and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Act, which has been proven to be not efficient. It is only the Cybercrime Law that can put our judiciary and the CBN out of this misery. It is therefore eminent that the CBN should begin to drum support for this bill because without it we will all be playing the game of soccer with an empty net!
It will be a great injustice to roundup this article without proffering some measures that can be used to manage our present predicaments. In a cashless society, financial threats against organizations and individuals are multi-faceted. Hackers and crackers have greatly threatened information transmission over the virtual world. Many corporations in the advance world have applied multi-layered security solutions to prevent threats. System-layered security solutions include system logs, host-based intrusion detection, file encryption, identity-based or role-based access control. Network and infrastructure-layered security solutions include firewall, virtual private network, public key infrastructure, cryptography, network-based intrusion detection, and intrusion prevention. Physical separation of the networks is seen as the fundamental practice to protecting information assets. We should also try and keep pace with the advances in biometric technology.
Good foundation must be laid for every government policy to stand the test of time. This essay is not meant to destructively criticize the cashless policy in other to score cheap political popularity, instead it is meant to point out the loopholes, weaknesses and the enormous challenges that lay ahead, so that we can re-strategise and triumph over it collectively. If any government policy fails, we must first of all look at it as the failure of the nation not the head of that organ alone. We must all come together to help build a better Nigeria for the peace and progress of our dear nation.
May God help Nigeria, amin.

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