“Be Safe Online” Interview with NITA-U Executive Director, Dr. Hatwib Mugasa
Be Safe Online campaign's objective is to equip Ugandans with the right information on how best they can protect themselves while they use the internet.
The National Information Technology Authority (NITA) Uganda in July launched a Cyber Security Awareness Campaign dubbed “Be Safe Online” aiming at increasing public awareness and vigilance on cyber threats. The campaign as per our knowledge will run throughout the year —educating the public on cyber crimes to best protect themselves while using the internet.
We briefly caught up with NITA Uganda Executive Director, Dr. Hatwib Mugasa who briefly enlightened us about the campaign and how best we can protect ourselves from cybercriminals.
The Be Safe Online campaign could not have come at a more appropriate time than today when organizations and businesses are moving online. From Uganda’s perspective, what were the major reasons that informed this campaign?
The growth in the ICT infrastructure, Internet usage, and online access has opened new opportunities for Uganda, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic. As we speak, there are over 20 million internet subscriptions in Uganda which means that half of our population is actively using the internet. With the increase in the use of the internet and e-Services, the need for cyber security is key in order to avoid cyber fraud and maintain trust in the use of these services. Information security also serves broader national security goals by protecting critical national infrastructure within the information and communication sector.
The best way to increase knowledge amongst the public on how to keep their data safe against cybercriminals is through awareness. This is because the threats and tactics keep on evolving. It is on this basis that we launched the National Cybersecurity awareness campaign. Its objective is to equip citizens with the right information on how best they can protect themselves while they use the internet. We have also put in place a centralized website www.besafeonline.ug —that is a central knowledge hub for anyone seeking information and best practices on cybersecurity.
Who are some of your implementing partners in this campaign and what do they do?
This campaign is one of several initiatives under the Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme (RCIP) funded by the World Bank which aims to create secure cyberspace. Soon, still under RCIP, the Government of Uganda will be unveiling the National Cybersecurity Strategy for Uganda. The other partners are the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance who play a supervisory role, the Uganda Police Force who is in charge of investigating cyber-related crime, and the Sauti Child Helpline.
What are some of the common mistakes that internet users need to guard themselves against?
A big percentage of security breaches are a result of human error —and many times we are the weakest link when it comes to cyber security. Some of the common mistakes we make include;
- Using very weak passwords which are normally short, include only text/letters, use of names (your name, spouse, children, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc) that can be easily guessed or cracked by cybercriminals. A talented hacker can break into your account and in the worst-case hijack the account. The best way is a strong password at least 10 characters long with a mix of symbols, numbers, upper case, and lower case letters. You can also use a password manager and enable two-factor authentication to deter hackers.
- Posting very personal and sensitive content on social media platforms could expose your online profile to hackers who could use it to target you and your close contacts or family members with fictitious claims. I advise posting less sensitive information on your social media platforms.
- Using counterfeit software or outdated software programs on laptops is a security risk too. This leaves you exposed to hackers as there is no guarantee for baseline security. We advise users to use only licensed software (if it is proprietary software) and always keep updating software on all their devices including mobile applications, as and when the software publishers release updates. For example, if you use Windows as your operating system, you should really be working on the latest version of the Operating System because they’ll have the most up-to-date security patches to the Operating System.
- You should also be wary of shopping websites that offer popular brands at great deals, they could be fake websites. Cybercriminals are known to set up fictitious online shopping websites that look legitimate with offers and prices that are too good to be true. These websites are meant to steal your hard-earned money. If it looks too good to be true, it’s good practice to do a bit of due diligence and ‘google’ the online site to find out if there are any reported incidents of a scam or fraud related to the site before you make a purchase
At the end of this campaign, what will be some of the success indicators that NITA Uganda will look at to determine whether it was a great campaign or it lacked somewhere?
We would like to catalyze the growth of a cyber security-aware mindset amongst internet users. This will go a long way in promoting trust in the use of internet-enabled services offered by both the Government and the private sector. Ultimately, we will keep this campaign running, awareness does not stop.
With the pandemic disrupting sectors, how has NITA Uganda come out to help with business continuity during the pandemic?
- Any response to control and combat the spread of disease during a pandemic should be swift and adaptive to rapid change. It should be scalable and proportionate to the risk apatite of the Government. As soon as the call for response effort was set in motion, as NITA-U we swiftly instituted a Pandemic Response Plan to guide Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies in establishing response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
- Together with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and UNDP, we rolled out Zoom across Government from the first lockdown in March 2020 to enable online meetings, workshops, conferences, etc in order to allow for Government business to continue during the lockdown.
- In partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and NCDC, We are providing a free digital learning tool called Kolibiri to keep children learning from home. From the first lockdown to date, there are over 4,575 users who are benefiting from Kolibri.
- To eliminate long lines and crowds at the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), we developed an Appointment System (https://servicebooking.nira.go.ug) that enables citizens to schedule appointments for all of NIRA’s services like registration and replacement of a National ID.
- We continue to support various Government Ministries and Authorities in the development of digital solutions to ease this new normal. For example, we supported the Ministry of Health to develop the Covid-19 Information Portal (https://covid19.gou.go.ug) that provides daily statistics and information related to Government’s fight against the pandemic, we supported the Ministry of Works & Transport with the development of a Travel Permit System (https://clearance.works.go.ug) to ease movement during the second lockdown, we digitized the licensing process at National Forest Authority by developing an e-License System, among other things.
President Museveni thanked NITA for designing a system for Covid-19 Fund distribution which saved the Government a lot of funds. What was the role of NITA in Covid-19 relief funds distribution?
Under the National Covid-19 Relief Sub Committee, with the guidance of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, we designed and developed a digital Covid-19 Relief Fund Management System. The system was used by the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development to collect information about vulnerable people, validate and authenticate beneficiaries for the fund. We also provided technical support, conducted technical training, and provided hosting services for the system in the National Cloud Data Center.