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Disconnected Continent: Lessons from the West African Internet Outage

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Millions of internet users across West Africa were left frustrated and disconnected recently, as a major outage impacted countries like Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Understanding the cause of this disruption and the potential preventative measures is crucial for building a more resilient internet infrastructure in Africa.

West Africa Goes Dark: A Multi-Pronged Outage with Cascading Effects

On March 14th, 2024, a significant internet disruption swept across West and Central Africa. Initial reports attributed the outage to undersea cable failures, highlighting the critical role these subsea communication arteries play in connecting Africa to the global internet. Further investigation revealed additional contributing factors, including issues with internet exchange points (IXPs) and potential routing problems. The cascading effect of these issues left users with limited to no internet access, disrupting businesses, communications, and essential online services.

Beyond Subsea Cables: Building Redundancy and Regional Cooperation

While undersea cable failures were a significant factor in this outage, the incident underscores the need for a more diversified and robust internet infrastructure in Africa. Here are 10 steps that can be taken to bolster internet resilience in the region:

  1. Multiple Cable Options: Invest in additional undersea cable routes to reduce reliance on single points of failure.
  2. Strengthen IXPs: Support and develop internet exchange points (IXPs) within Africa to facilitate regional internet traffic exchange and reduce reliance on international routes.
  3. Cybersecurity Measures: Implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect critical internet infrastructure from cyberattacks that could disrupt operations.
  4. Infrastructure Investment: Increase investment in national and regional internet infrastructure projects to improve overall capacity and redundancy.
  5. Public-Private Partnerships: Foster public-private partnerships to leverage expertise and resources for infrastructure development and internet governance initiatives.
  6. Disaster Recovery Planning: Develop comprehensive disaster recovery plans for internet service providers (ISPs) and relevant stakeholders to ensure swift restoration in case of outages.
  7. Knowledge Sharing & Training: Promote knowledge sharing and training programs to enhance technical capacity and expertise in internet infrastructure management and cybersecurity within the region. 8. Regional Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between African nations on internet governance, policy development, and infrastructure projects.
  8. Transparency & Communication: Ensure transparent communication from ISPs and relevant authorities during outages to keep users informed and manage expectations.
  9. User Awareness: Raise user awareness about online safety, cybersecurity best practices, and the importance of a robust internet infrastructure.
  10. StarLink: One emerging technology with the potential to contribute to a more resilient internet ecosystem in Africa is SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation..

Conclusion

The recent West African internet outage serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities inherent in our hyper-connected world. By investing in infrastructure diversification, prioritizing cybersecurity, and fostering regional cooperation, African nations can build a more resilient internet ecosystem that serves the needs of its citizens and fosters economic growth in the digital age. The lessons learned from this disruption can pave the way for a more secure and stable online experience for all Africans.

Ouaissou DEMBELE
Ouaissou DEMBELEhttps://cybercory.com
Ouaissou DEMBELE is an accomplished cybersecurity professional and the Editor-In-Chief of cybercory.com. He has over 10 years of experience in the field, with a particular focus on Ethical Hacking, Data Security & GRC. Currently, Ouaissou serves as the Co-founder & Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Saintynet, a leading provider of IT solutions and services. In this role, he is responsible for managing the company's cybersecurity strategy, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations, and identifying and mitigating potential threats, as well as helping the company customers for better & long term cybersecurity strategy. Prior to his work at Saintynet, Ouaissou held various positions in the IT industry, including as a consultant. He has also served as a speaker and trainer at industry conferences and events, sharing his expertise and insights with fellow professionals. Ouaissou holds a number of certifications in cybersecurity, including the Cisco Certified Network Professional - Security (CCNP Security) and the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), ITIL. With his wealth of experience and knowledge, Ouaissou is a valuable member of the cybercory team and a trusted advisor to clients seeking to enhance their cybersecurity posture.

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