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African Countries Must Step Up Their Game On Cybersecurity-SPIRE Exec

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NAVEEN BHARADWAJ tells Clifford Agugoesi exclusively, on the sidelines of CyFrica 2020, at the Lagos Continental Hotel, Victoria Island, south west, Nigeria, February 25-26, African economies have to up their cybersecurity game.

PART 1

CYBER ERA: Your Introduction on LinkedIn says you are an Intrapreneur, Tech Enthusiast and Events Director, et cetera.  Who is an Intrapreneur and how are you managing these plus three dimensions of yours?

NAVEEN BHARADWAJ:  Personally, I believe these dimensions are a combination of interests, skillset and personality.

Being an intrapreneur is mostly a personality. We have this notion that only business owners are entrepreneurs, but if you look at different organizations, there are many business-owner-like employees who are naturally driven, create alternate business streams, manage business units, run a unit as if it were a separate business and ultimately generate business for their owners. Those are the ‘intrapreneurs’, and I’m fortunate enough to be recognized to be one such person.

On tech enthusiasm, its both personal and professional interest as I am a computer science engineer by qualification and had been hosting technology-related business conferences and events around the Middle East and Africa(MEA) over the past 8 years -Fintech Summit, CyFence Africa, Hospitality Technology (HITEC), Enterprise Blockchain, Smart Transformation, and the list goes long. By technology enthusiast, I don’t  mean to say I am an ‘IT’ guy, I just mean to say  that I am interested in the concepts of emerging technologies such as blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence,  and what impact they can have on the business.  The technical bits, as exciting as it might be, that’s not for me. 

The last dimension you asked about is events and I already mentioned the types of events I’ve launched, led or managed before I switched the industry to join Spire Solutions, Middle East’s leading value added cyber security distributor, to learn and lead new things.

CE: Talk to us about CyFenceAfrica 2018 (Nairobi) and CyFrica 2020 (Lagos). What differences and similarities do you find in both?

NB: I think it will be wrong of me to compare as they are different events/entities held at different times.

CyFence Africa, amongst my most memorable experiences, was the first event I personally led in Africa, and possibly a first ever Pan African gathering dedicated to cyber security. It was endorsed by the Hon’ President of Kenya, HE Uhuru Kenyatta, supported by the Hon’ Minister of ICT, Joseph (Joe) Mucheru and led by the highly experienced and very well-respected Dr. Catherine Getao (currently CEO of Kenya ICT Authority). I was the Summit Director from the Private sector side. We gathered, if I remember correctly, over 1300 senior executives from 55 different countries, pan African representation.  The core focus was to accelerate Africa’s cyber security dialogue collectively. Because Africa was talking about continental trade, connection, One Africa and more. But then when it came to cybersecurity, not much was being done collectively. So we came together as government and the private sector, connected different African and global stakeholders and saw tangible results coming out of that. There were a few trademarks, collaboration initiatives and classified projects that came out of that summit and we were very happy with that.

That was two years ago, when I was the organizer. Today, I’m at CyFrica in Lagos, invited by the organizers Tradepass, as the Chairperson of the summit and a representative of Spire Solutions. I was impressed with the quality and quantity of the attendance I have seen here. Generally, people tell me that events in Nigeria are very difficult to manage, people may or may not show up as they have changing priorities and so on. But that was not the case here.  I saw that the numbers promised by the organizers were delivered. You had CIOs, CISOs,CTOs and so on from the likes of Dangote, Community Banks, UBA, Nigerian Police Force represented by the Head of Cybercrime, NITDA, represented by the person who heads the PKI project, the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) and more. So, the right people are in the room, but it is not just Nigerians, we had people from Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Botswana, so it seems to be an alternate version of CyFence Africa that was held a couple of years in Kenya.  Content has been brilliant, there has been great interactions, we’ve got another day to go, so let’s see how the session ends!

CE: Encountering you here, at CyFrica 2020, reveals to me a passionate and energetic young man raring to go.  Where is this awesome energy coming from for Naveen?

NB:  I have no secret recipe or source of energy.  It is just, perhaps, my personality. Also, I have been very fortunate to have always associated with and surrounded by people with high energy, so that must also be helping me.

CE: Talk to us about the Niche Cybersecurity Threats that Africa should watch out for.

NB: What I gathered based on our internal research, as well as my one day’s presence at the summit here in Nigeria, is that Africa’s threat landscape is constantly changing, and unique threat vectors are being used by the bad actors. Some common threats and attacks are coming through endpoints such as desktops and mobile phones, phishing emails, social engineering, romance scams on social media and phone calls, malwares and ransomwares, account taker over, 3rd parties or external stakeholders compromise, coordinated campaigns and targeted attacks on networks, websites, mobile applications, IoT devices, ICS and OT environments, and so on.

As digitization comes with digital risks, law enforcement agencies, the government and many private companies too are talking about challenges in monitoring the deep, dark and open web to know what kind of digital assets are out there, what are the main targets, what is the motive behind the digitized assets being attacked or compromised, what are they being used for and so on. Engaging experts would help here.

Security awareness or lack of awareness is another major threat. Many employers do not understand cyber-hygiene.

Most organizations seem to recognize these threats and challenges, but then, who is going to identify the solutions? They claim to be busy with other projects or have budget constraint if you tell them to engage solution providers as much as possible. They want to park things for tomorrow. But cybersecurity is a zero-trust space as well as a no-tomorrows space; it is today! It is now. If you don’t do something now, you might end up being a victim of a massive attack or a campaign when it is too late for you to go back in time.

Also, everybody at the summit is saying that we need collective ownership where responsibilities are being shared as a nation and regulators are not necessarily singled out to mitigate these issues. Everybody is also seeking access to new and advanced technologies, but then, they are also highlighting the challenge of restricted resources and funding. A partial solution to this could be to build some national security operations centers-SOC, threat intelligence platforms-TIP, joint awareness programmes or platforms, for example, that can cater to multiple companies within a particular industry.

CE: Would you say that all those the organizers tried to reach out to showed up at this summit?

NB: From the cyber security vendors’ side or from the industry delegates side?

CE: Both.

NB: Although we have a good mix of cyber security vendors, we might not have had the right numbers or variety that would justify the time and efforts of everybody that is attending. I think the organizers should focus on having more cyber security vendors as there’s a huge demand for solutions and services. But I also understand, as an ex-events professional, that the organizers may not allow a vendor unless they invest because a vendor’s main objective and motive is to do business; they may not be here just to support the industry without any expectations. 

From the delegates’ side, the room has been busy all through the day, and I am being told that between 400-500 delegates are here. Typical summits will take about 100-150 delegates, so we are talking about three times that size here despite some dropouts.

CE: Might the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat have affected the configuration we are seeing?

NB: May be a couple of global vendors are missing in the room for that reason, but I don’t think COVID-19 had any impact on the delegates. I’ve heard that several global events got cancelled or rescheduled such as the Mobile World Congress(MWC), for example. The telecommunications world was looking forward to it but that event was cancelled. Most events in the South East Asia and East Asian Belt are also cancelled.  It is justified in those areas.

  • Naveen Bharadwaj is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Projects at SPIRE SOLUTIONS, and is set to lead their expansion to Africa, starting with Nigeria and Kenya.

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