Facebook, Carnegie Mellon University in joint effort to tackle cybercrime

Students from the 10 participating countries during the hackathon in Kigali this week. Courtesy.

With cybercrime increasingly becoming a major threat both in Rwanda and globally, social media firm Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University Africa have joined hands to devise viable solutions to the problem.

Rwanda hosts the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Africa campus.


The two entities organised a hackathon where students were challenged to develop solutions to cybersecurity challenges within 24 hours.


The hackathon, which ended yesterday, brought together 78 students from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, Lesotho and Togo who were out in groups to tackle a cybersecurity challenge.


Organisers say cybersecurity remains key to the development and uptake of technology not only in Rwanda but the world over, thus the need to develop future leaders.

Officials said there was recognition that security and privacy threats are a global problem that can be solved by drawing on talents and skills of people across the globe.

“Cybersecurity is extremely important in the development of transformative technology solutions in Africa. Through our partnership with Facebook, we are able to engage our students in an exciting challenge to create cybersecurity solutions for the continent and to expose them to Facebook’s top security engineers and leaders,” said Andrea Ponce, the Director of Development at CMU Africa.

Lujo Bauer, a cybersecurity expert from the top US varsity, said the sessions were, among other things, aimed at encouraging creativity and posing real life challenges to students.

“Hackathons both spark student interest -- in this case in security and privacy -- and encourage creativity. Both of these are crucial as we try to develop a workforce that will be able to answer the security and privacy challenges of tomorrow. I hope this event will be an inspiration and motivation to them as they graduate and start applying their skills in the workforce,” Bauer said.

Facebook said their involvement is designed to help promote hands-on skills. 

“The cybersecurity industry needs to be reflective of the diversity of people we aim to protect. Facebook has invested heavily in security education programmes so all different kinds of people get to experience security fundamentals, hands-on,” the firm said in a statement.

Rwanda’s central bank says that last year alone they recorded about 150,000 network attacks and about 8m suspicious transactions.

Over the last five years, Rwanda’s financial sector has recorded 705 fraud cases amounting to Rwf5.7 billion.

Police last year registered 80 incidents involving about Rwf2.6 billion, most of which they said was successfully recovered.

Notably, last year’s figure is twice the amount recorded in 2016 (Rwf1.3 billion) which points to growing vulnerability to fraudsters.

A recent study showed that African countries are reported to have lost at least US$2 billion in cyber-attacks in 2016. In the region, Kenya recorded the highest losses, at $171 million, while Tanzania lost $85 million and Uganda $35 million.


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