Institute of ICT Professionals: Cyber security awareness- web application’s perspective

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

There has been a series of attacks on web based applications in Ghana in recent times. In the past three years, Ghanaian organizations and agencies, most especially government agencies have experienced severe cyber-attacks.

Most organizations in the country operate their web based applications without protecting the HTML codes. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the set of markup symbols or codes inserted in a file intended for display on a World Wide Web (www) browser page. The markup tells the web browser how to display a web page’s words and images for the user.

On Friday, 12 May 2017, it was reported that over 250,000 computers were infected with WannaCry Ransomware attacks in over 150 countries. The private media houses in Ghana had earlier experienced a major cyber attack on their websites which rendered the sites inaccessible to readers. The media websites attacked included ghanaweb.com, peacefmonline.com, myjoyononline.com and adomonline.com.

This report indicated that Ghanaian organizations needed to embrace the global cyber security threat against institutions. The global cyber threat against institutions like banks, schools, data storage agencies, health institutions, law firms etc are intended to steal data, money, erase data or permanently destroy sensitive data.

Organizations must therefore be extremely cautious about how to protect its collected data, how to process, transmit and store information of its employees, suppliers, vendors, etc.

The Bank of Ghana, startled by the recent cybercrime activities in Ghana, has warned banks in the country to strengthen their cyber security systems to forestall attacks. In a statement issued by the Second Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana, Johnson Asiamah, he said “The growing threat of cyber attacks has never been more pressing. Recent instances of payment fraud demonstrate the necessity for industry-wide collaboration to fight against threats”.

A typical example of the cyber attacks on Ghanaian web applications has to do with Alsancak Tim who is a Turkish hacker. He has successfully hacked several websites belonging to agencies and ministries in Ghana.

Tim unusually uses ransomware, denial of service, phishing and other cybercrime attacking techniques on his victims, especially his malware cyber attack on Ghana government website (www.ghana.gov.gh) on 20th January, 2015. Several government agencies have suffered similar attacks on different occasions. Some of the websites Tim attacked includes:

http://www.mfa.gov.gh/ – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569429
http://moc.gov.gh/ – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569666
http://scholarships.gov.gh/ – http://turk-h.org/defacement/view/560295/scholarships.gov.gh/
http://nss.gov.gh/ – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569393
http://nfed.gov.gh/ – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569410
http://www.motcca.gov.gh/ – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569549
http://schoolfeeding.gov.gh/ -http://turkh.org/defacement/view/560288/schoolfeeding.gov.gh/
http://www.gida.gov.gh/site/p_ongoing – http://zone-h.org/mirror/id/23569660

These cyber attacks have also been launched on organizations by cyber criminals globally. A search I conducted indicates that several organizations across the globe operate their web applications without proper security measures. Globally, organizations that have not been hit severely by the impact of cyber attacks do not see the urgency to implement security technologies and proper cyber security policies.

There are few institutions like banks, universities, health facilities which have resilient web based applications which makes web penetration attacks extremely difficult for cyber criminals. These are few websites I visited and found out that their sites have been secured: Barclays Bank: https://www.home.barclays/; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology: https://www.knust.edu.gh/; https://www.dataprotection.org.gh/.

The technological advancement has necessitated the need to implement security measures when developing web applications. Malicious persons are always exploring the possible vulnerabilities and weak security patches in organization’s networks to launch devastating attacks.

Government agencies and private organizations must deploy secured web based applications protocols such as SSL certificate and well-built secured database system. This advanced security technique may come with extra cost since one need to buy SSL certificate, Dedicated IP, Domain Privacy and Site Backup, to ensure a secured and safe website.

Other predominant vulnerabilities web developers must check includes Broken authentication and session management, insecure direct object references, Security misconfiguration, Insecure Cryptographic Storage, etc.Vulnerability assessment tests and penetration tests must be conducted on websites regularly to ensure websites are resilient against any known and unknown cyber attacks.

Before you make any payment for online transactions, ensure that the website has https protocol (locked padlock sign, eg https://www.dataprotection.org.gh/). Do not share your personal data or make any form of payment with your debit card if the website only has http but not https protocol. The best secured and trusted website must have https rather than the unsecured http.

Business owners must also ensure they engage the services of professional pent-testers on regular basis to conduct vulnerability assessment and penetration test on their organization’s network infrastructure and web application.

As Ghana celebrates her cyber security awareness this week, let us all follow the activities and the series of events as experts and professionals in the industry share their experiences and thoughts.

>>The writer is an ICT expert and member of the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana. For comments, contact author: nbowusu7@gmail.comMobile: +233244305305

>>>The Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana (IIPGH) is a non-profit professional body which is currently made up of members in various domains of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) practice. 

The Institute has been formed to help tackle the ICT human resource constraint in Ghana. The main aim of the Institute is to become a connector by bringing together Government, big corporations, start-ups, educational institutions and investors on one platform in order to create a vibrant ICT ecosystem. You can reach us +233(0) 242 773 762, info@iipgh.org, www.iipgh.org.