The Ballooning Threat of Cybercrime in Africa: How AI is Changing the Game

Peter French

In today’s rapidly advancing technological landscape, Africa-based SMEs and organisations increasingly find themselves at a critical digital crossroads.

Despite the region’s relentless pursuit of growth and adoption of cutting-edge technologies, most of these enterprises have inadvertently exposed their vulnerable underbelly to the ever-evolving threat of cybercrime.

As malicious actors continue to formulate ingenious attack methods aimed at exploiting Africa’s rising digital ecosystem, the clarion call from cyber protection experts is getting louder by the day: African small and medium-size business owners, governments and individual internet users must remain steadfast and vigilant.

It’s high time that proactive measures are taken to safeguard invaluable digital assets.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly emerging as a formidable double-edged sword in the realm of cybersecurity.

While it has undoubtedly empowered enterprises in Africa, unfortunately it has also become a potent weapon employed by adversaries to orchestrate sophisticated cyberattacks.

The integration of AI into the fabric of Africa’s digital ecosystems ushers in a new era of opportunities and challenges.

Drawing inspiration from success stories and practical applications in other developed regions, Africa must seize the moment and embrace AI-powered cyber protection while fortifying itself against potential vulnerabilities.

By arming themselves with tried-and-tested AI-driven cyber protection tools, African enterprises can overwhelmingly strike a harmonious balance between cost-effective day-to-day operations and a significantly diminished risk of falling prey to cybercriminals.

Through the lens of AI-centric cyber protection, SMEs and large organisations across Africa’s digital ecosystem can greatly enhance their early detection and response capabilities, automate mundane and repetitive tasks, and most importantly fortify their overall online security.


Enterprises in developing economies in Africa constantly face a myriad of cybersecurity threats, with some of them, unfortunately, losing millions of dollars in the process.

According to Interpol’s  African Cyberthreat Assessment Report 2021, Africa has the fastest-growing internet networks in the world.

This growth has, however, exposed the region to unimaginable risks that need to be addressed with urgency.

South Africa, which is ranked as the sixth-most dense region for cybercrime in the world, reported a surge from 14,1 victims per one million internet users in 2019 to 50,8 victims in 2020.

In Kenya and Nigeria, financial phishing attempts rose significantly in the first two quarters of 2022: Banks, online payment systems and e-commerce websites were targeted indiscriminately. This is according to the Acronis End-of-Year Cyber Threats Report 2022.

In Kenya, for instance, more than 100 000 financial phishing attacks were detected – a 201% increase compared to the first quarter of the year, with Nigeria reporting over 61 000 financial phishing attacks, representing an increase of 79% compared to Q1.

Businesses and organisations in these emerging economies have reported numerous cases that range from online scams, digital extortion, business email compromise, ransomware, botnets, espionage, threat to critical infrastructure and organised crime, among others.

Most recently, one of Kenya’s leading supermarket chains, Naivas, became the latest victim of a data breach following a ransomware attack by a threat actor – a rather unfortunate incident that raises crucial questions about the continent’s preparedness.

Businesses in the region therefore need to step up their cyber protection efforts and fast-track the adoption and deployment of effective countermeasures.


As part of its overall cyber protection strategy, the region’s business landscape needs to map out and implement greater regional cooperation, increase its investments in cybersecurity efforts and capabilities, develop innovation-driven national strategies, greater reliance on expertise and insights from the private sector, and improved employee awareness and education.

South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are among the countries that have made significant progress in developing national cybersecurity strategies.

However, there are still several challenges such as over-reliance on the government sector for cybersecurity expertise and decision-making, limited resources, lack of awareness, inadequate policies and regulations, and limited cybersecurity expertise.

The use of AI in fighting cyber criminals will be the ultimate game-changer.

Its possibilities are endless, but only if adopted and deployed strategically. Emerging economies in Africa have a fighting chance in the name of AI-enabled cyber protection.

By partnering with tried-and-tested cyber protection experts, the African business landscape will ultimately attract more investments – a move that will have a remarkable impact on its citizenry.

  • Peter French is a general manager at the technology company Acronis.

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