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Should Africa Be Worried About Chinese Cyber-Espionage?

02 June, 2013
ICT Africa
June 2, 2013

There has been quite a lot of concern in the USA about the Chinese cyber-intrusion of US military information systems. Should Africa really be concerned about Chinese hackers intruding into their sensitive military systems and take special precautions as Morocco just did?

Recent reports indicated that Chinese hackers, apparently under instructions from the Chinese military, compromised USA defence systems. Dozens of top ranking weapons systems such as the Patriot missile systems, the Black Hawk helicopter and several Navy systems were all compromised. Some have even gone a step further to allege that the Chinese military used a combination of an American F-117 Nighthawk that was shot down over Serbia in 1999 and stolen information systems to develop their own stealth jet programme.

In an apparent response to the Chinese espionage on USA military systems, Morocco initiated cyber security cooperation with France. The terms of the enhanced cooperation with France were detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed last week. To underscore the fact that the cyber cooperation was for defence systems, the memorandum was signed by the Moroccan junior Minister in charge of national defense administration, Abdeltif Loudyi, and the Secretary General of France’s Defense and National Security, Francis Delon.

It is not likely that China has any interest in conducting cyber espionage on African defense systems since there are hardly any defense systems to talk about in Africa. The memorandum of understanding between Morocco and France is most likely intended to protect French military technology from Chinese espionage. Since France supplies military gear to Morocco, France would not want that technology to be compromised.

The only form of Chinese espionage we are aware of in Africa involves the supply of Chinese cyber surveillance technology to African governments. We suspect that in most cases the technology is used by African government officials to spy on their opponents and to suppress descent. Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries have all received Chinese cyber surveillance technology.

We find solace in the fact custodians of this technology in Africa, typically secrete security agents who specialise in sitting in bars listening to those who insult their leaders, do not have the capacity to use the technology. In Zimbabwe, for example the sophisticated technology has failed to reveal the true identity of an insider whistle blower, Baba Jukwa, who has caused pandemonium within the ruling party.


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