Investigating Cybercrime in sub-Saharan Africa



Story by Annette Hilton (annette.hilton@orau.org)

Cybercrime is a serious threat around the world. Collectively, the impact of cybercrime accounts
for the
loss of billions of dollars ranging from identity theft to significant threats to national
security.

The average American may be primarily concerned about cyberthreats close to home. However,
cybercrime does not have borders, and many countries are not able to harness cybercrime. Because
cybersecurity is a relatively new arena for criminal activity, legislation in many countries has
not caught up with the changing times.

Samuel Olatunbosun, Ph.D. of Norfolk State University (NSU) and two of his students, Nathanial
Edwards and Cytyra Martineau, investigated instances of cybercrime in sub-Saharan Africa. Their
research was possible through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team
(SRT) Program for Minority Serving Institutions.

The SRT Program is designed to increase scientific leadership at Minority Serving Institutions in
DHS research areas. The program provides faculty and student research teams the opportunity to
conduct research at university-based DHS Centers of Excellence.

Olatunbosun and his students performed their research at the Borders, Trade, and Immigration Center
at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas.

The team investigated instances of cybercrime in geographic regions of sub-Saharan Africa. In 10
weeks, the team studied about 100 published research articles to evaluate types of cybercrime and then
identify patterns and common themes. The team gathered and organized existing data into one central
repository that would facilitate easy access, management and analysis of the information regarding
cyberthreats. The data included countries of concern, their most common type of crime and relevant
legal measures for prevention of cybercrimes available in those countries. The team’s investigation
focused attention on the severity of cybersecurity threats.

Edwards and Martineau brought different computer science skills to the table and teamed up to fully
realize their strengths and overcome weaknesses. “The program motivated me to step up, get outside
of my comfort zone and be a leader,” Martineau reflected.

“The experience as a whole was my favorite. I learned about a new culture, received a slight
glimpse into the career I would like to be in, and visited a city that I have never been to,” said
Edwards.

“The experience demonstrated the saying that ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ My team
realized what was at stake, we challenged ourselves, got on remarkably well as a team, divided the
tasks equally and everyone delivered their assigned tasks in a timely manner. It was totally a
‘mission accomplished’ for us,” said Olatunbosun, indicating the team plans to publish its
research.

The threesome returned to Norfolk State University, where Olatunbosun continued teaching and sought
similar opportunities for the benefit of students. Edwards and Martineau continued to work toward
the completion of their bachelor’s degrees.

The DHS SRT Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge
Associated Universities.