Local fact-checking publication Africa Check has done a report on a recent article in TimesLive based on a press release by public relations firm I Heart PR, which claimed that “South Africa has the third highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide, losing about R2.2-billion a year in cyber attacks.”
Africa Check found that South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric), to whom TimesLive attributed the claim, say the information did not come from them.
Sabric “has never made a public statement about South Africa having the third highest cybercrime victims in the world, or that cybercrime victims in South Africa are losing about R2.2 billion a year to cyber attacks,” spokesperson Louise Tordiffe told Africa Check.
According to Tordiffe, the R2.2-billion a year figure “was a misquote that occurred some years ago, and keeps being re-used”.
She continued that the organisation does not have enough information on the number of victims, as many crimes were not reported.
The claim that SA has the third highest amount of cyber crimes was instead traced to a report by digital security company Norton.
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The report said 73% of South Africans were victims of cybercrime in 2013, the third highest rate in the world after Russia (85%) and China (77%). It estimated the cost of these crimes in South Africa at around 2.2 billion.
According to Jennifer Duffourg, who oversees Norton’s cyber security reports, says the data was collected from an online survey of 13 022 adults aged 18 to 64 in 24 countries, from 4 July 2013 to 1 August 2013. In South Africa, 500 people who owned at least one mobile device were polled.
Duffourg noted that a lot has changed since the data was released.
“What I do know that even if is was 100% accurate in 2013, five years later it will not be accurate anymore – the field is just moving too fast.”
Arthur Goldstuck of techonology research company World Wide Worx, who has written books on urban legends and is somewhat of an expert on the subject, says South Africa’s ranking could be one.
“Some (reports) cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but don’t offer a credible source, and also differ on the ranking,” Goldstuck said. “Ultimately, our third-placed ranking looks like an urban legend, which has been quoted often enough for people to assume it to be fact.”
Reinhardt Botha, a professor in technology at Nelson Mandela University (NMU), told Africa Check it would be impossible to tell if the ranking were reliable without knowing the full methods the researchers used.
He did, however, add: “What is a fact is that cyber crime is growing and that we indeed need greater precautions.”
Africa Check came to the conclusion that there is no reliable data on SA’s global cybercrime ranking or cost, rating the article “unproven.”
This should not at all be taken as evidence that cyber crime is overestimated as a problem. In fact, according to Africa Check, analysts say the cost of online crime in the country is likely much higher than the 2.2 billion figure that has been confirmed to be a misquote.