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Francisca Afua Opoku-Boateng, a doctoral student in information systems at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., stands in the network server classroom in the Beacom Institute of Technology on the DSU campus. IMAGE: DSU

Francisca Afua Opoku-Boateng, Dakota State University, Madison, S.D.: Worldwide cooperation needed to improve cybersecurity

MADISON, S.D. – Information is power, and cybersecurity is all about protecting that information to make it as secure as possible. This is important whether you live in the United States or in any country around the world.

Ghana, my home country in West Africa, is not immune to cyber risks and attacks. Electronic payments and commerce fraud, “sakawa” or internet fraud, ransomware, insider threats and identity theft, social media abuse, social engineering, web defacement and ATM fraud are top cybersecurity issues. 

Plus, Ghanaian news and media outlets have reported that cybercriminals are getting smarter by the day, sharpening their skills and discovering innovative ways to gain access to networks and data of businesses such as financial institutions. A report released by a Kenyan-based IT firm, Serianu Ltd., revealed how the Ghanaian economy lost a total of U.S. $50 million to cybercrime in 2016.

Ghana is taking baby steps with cybersecurity. For example, in Ghana there was no proven system for monitoring cybersecurity developments, and the International Telecommunication Union of the United Nations observed the absence in the country of a national governance roadmap for cybersecurity, although Ghana had a drafted national cybersecurity policy. That policy seeks to address the lack of awareness of risks that users and businesses face when doing business in cyberspace.

Leaders have recognized the need to develop a technology framework for combating cyberattacks. So, Ghana’s vice president recently launched the 2018 National Cybersecurity Awareness Program, which calls for the intensification and harmonization of efforts to fight cybercrime and control or limit the increasing danger.

Institutions such as the Bank of Ghana are putting measures in place to fight cybercrime, part of the government’s push to beef up security and protect the country’s business institutions from cyberattacks.

Combating cyber threats in the U.S.

As Prairie Business readers know, attacks are happening in the United States as well. A recent example is the massive Marriott data breach, which exposed personal information of about 400 million guests.

Schools and hospitals are potential victims of cyber attacks, and financial institutions run into losses by means of counterfeiting and fraudulent money transfer.

To improve cybersecurity in this country, the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace has been officially recognized. National governance roadmaps for cybersecurity are provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The National Checklist Program for IT Products, as spelled out by the NIST Special Publication 800-70, serves as the U.S. government's repository of publicly available security benchmarks. It offers detailed, low-level guidance on setting the security configuration of operating systems and applications used by various businesses.

Proactive efforts will help global CS

One must be living under a rock not to be struck by a sense of urgency and action in regard to CS, so I believe readiness should be premeditated and not an afterthought. With proactive policies, businesses and organizations can react when they are – not if they are – compromised.

To quote Kevin Streff, founder of SBS CyberSecurity and professor of information assurance at Dakota State University, when it comes to CS awareness and mitigation, businesses around the world need to stop kicking the can. They need to stop putting off cyber risk mitigation and establish best practices such as compliance to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard guidelines and requirements.

This is true in the U.S., in Ghana, and in every other country around the world.

Cybersecurity professionals can be proactive on a personal level as well, taking it upon themselves to find out what’s going on outside their own country. They can do this by attending CS conferences to learn about best practices around the world.  

As a future cybersecurity professional, I want to be part of the solution, so I am working to gain a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the latest techniques in specialized information systems and cyber defense.

I can share this with my colleagues here or in Ghana, acting as a bridge of knowledge exchange.

My ultimate goal is to become a digital forensic or security expert/researcher working in a federal organization so that I may give back to society, helping citizens of all countries use technology to the best of their ability.

Francisca Afua Opoku-Boateng was born and raised in Ghana and completed her bachelor’s degree in information technology at Valley View University there. She also has a master’s degree in computer science and information systems from the University of Michigan.

She is a doctoral student at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., working toward a degree in information systems with a specialization in cyber defense. She is expected to graduate in 2022.

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