According to the CIA Country Fact Book, Nigeria has nearly 85.5 million internet users. Mobile cellular subscriptions are slightly more than 184 million, an approximate 88 per 100 Nigerian inhabitants. Deloitte, a leading worldwide business services and consulting firm predicted that in 2020 Nigeria, like the rest of the world, would “witness unprecedented cyber-attacks and cybersecurity solutions.”
The real problem for Nigerian citizens is highlighted in this Stears Business online article. The average Nigerian, like citizens the world over, is accustomed to surrendering personal data in exchange for digital services. The problem in Nigeria is that there are no government mandates to prevent and report misuse or compromise of all that data.
The Stears article points out that “Nigeria is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to cyber-attacks.” As recently as 2018, “about 60% of Nigerian firms suffered an attack…” The bottom line is “Nigerian firms are being attacked, but no one is reporting what is stolen.”
The flip side of the issue is government censorship and control of internet access. According to Freedom House, after the February 2019 elections, the Nigerian government considered legislation to “restrict online speech” in response to the spread of misleading and false online information.
While civil libertarians, bloggers, and internet users mobilized to oppose the bill, the government continued to leverage existing criminal defamation laws to arrest people for online activities. Nigeria has also blocked websites promoting the independence of the Biafra region and previously shut down internet access in three northern states during the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency.
The good news is that Nigeria’s internet infrastructure is decentralized and complex. This promotes competition and makes it difficult for the government to systematically filter or censor internet use.
Nevertheless, there are troubling reports that Nigeria’s government accessed call records from service providers and arrested at least three reporters along with numerous bloggers for online activities. Also, journalists and news sites reported several distributed denial of service cyberattacks.
So, the struggle between Nigerian citizens and a government concerned with security means that hacking, privacy, and censorship issues will remain part of the Nigerian digital landscape indefinitely. Internet uses wanting to access Nigerian resources should use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
The best reasons to use a VPN in Nigeria
VPNs are an encrypted tunnel
A VPN guarantees the security of online browsing by means of an encrypted “tunnel,” which replaces dedicated lines and hardware. The “tunneling” is by means of a pathway where a packet of data is enclosed within another encrypted packet, which can neither be intercepted nor read without the encryption key at the destination.
The VPN shows the user’s address as that of the VPN server the user logged into—a secure server in Nigeria, for example. When the VPN routes the user to the that secure VPN site, the data is encrypted.
Hackers and other surveillance agencies will have a difficult time tracing and tracking the user, even if the destination site is not secure. This is due to location and IP masking provided by the VPN server.
VPNs provide privacy and online protection
Browsing without a VPN makes the user a sitting target for trackers. Without the privacy and online protection of a VPN, the internet service provider can observe and record the user’s browsing activity and habits and sell the data to marketers. Also, without a VPN, the user can be vulnerable to compromises on unprotected public networks through so-called “Man-in-the-Middle” (MITM) attacks.
Preventing MITM breaches
Protecting against MITM attacks is the top reason for using a VPN. This is especially so on public Wi-Fi networks. Cyber criminals use detection technology and clever tactics like employing fake websites and apps. The goal is to gain their victim’s user credentials and passwords. The interference can be real time, or through injection of malware to the victim’s device for later activation.
MITM hackers use a number of tech-savvy and clever strategies, which include the following:
- using so-called “pineapple” devices to find nearby unsecured user networks
- DNS spoofing to lure the user to fake websites
- using fake web applications to trick the victim into providing personal login credentials
- using “sniffer” software to detect online activity of their target users
- hijacking unencrypted session cookies, which show email login information
A VPN, then, acts as a mobile shield. It hides the user’s IP address and adds encryption to the mix. Even if the hacker were to intercept the connection, what is displayed is only indecipherable gibberish.
VPNs bypass geo-blocking
Most countries enforce copyright restrictions and allow online streaming services to permit access to local users only. A premium VPN service like Surfshark can defeat VPN blockers. It does that through location hopping seeking servers that to bypass government censorship and geo-blocking. Essentially, a VPN maintains the founding principle of the internet, which is free and open access to everyone.
VPNs defeat unfair pricing practices
Some online shopping services display different prices based on from where the shopper logs in. Those price variances can be as great as 150 percent. The common practice is to charge a user logging in from an affluent location the higher price, or the user could be directed to a site that has premium prices.
Looking for the best price for a flight to Abuja? The foregoing pricing practices are also employed by some airlines, their ticketing agents, as well as auto rental agencies and hotels. A traveler see could higher or lower ticket prices for the same trip, depending the IP address of the traveler. So, logging into a VPN server from a variety of VPN locations is a way to find the best traveling bargains.
The Advantages of Premium VPNs
Free VPNs are not the best choice
There are a variety of free VPN services to choose from. They offer free downloads with no subscription fees. Rather than charging the user, free services raise revenue through intrusive ads and engage in sometimes shady practices that exploit their users. Free VPNs can also make the user’s online experience less secure and slow down web performance.
Free VPNs are essentially stripped-down versions of their premium counterparts. However in contrast to premium services, free VPNs:
- monitor the user’s online activity and sell the logs to marketers
- make the user a secondary target for hackers through malware-infested ads
- slowdown browser performance/speed with popup ads broadband restrictions (i.e., throttling)
Premium VPNs are the optimum choice
On the other hand, for a low monthly subscription cost a premium VPN service provides the following advantages:
- a no-logs policy–The user is never tracked on line, nor is any record kept of the user’s internet browsing habits.
- state-of-the-art encryption and security protocols—A premium VPN includes 256-bit, military grade, unbreakable encryption.
- a “kill switch” which safeguards against data linkage—When the user’s connection drops off the line, the VPN disconnects the user from the internet automatically.
- effective bypassing of geo-blocking and VPN detectors—This is done through VPN server hopping.
A VPN Does Not Replace Online Security Measures
VPNs do not provide an absolute shield against cyber-attacks. Non-technical phishing and social engineering can bypass the best security where unwary users have been duped into downloading cleverly concealed malware.
So, a VPN is only one element of an overall security awareness that must include the following:
- using strong antivirus software, which the provider updates as new threats develop
- activating the built-in security settings already present on Windows and Mac operating systems
- avoiding entering public Wi-Fi networks unprotected by a VPN
- logging on to websites that only have the HTTPS header
- being on the lookout for email phishing and never clicking on suspicious attachments or links
- using a solid password strategy, e.g., lengthy passwords, with a different password for each secure entry point
- backing up everything every day as the final defense against malware attacks
Summary and Takeaways
Nigeria, like everywhere else, has been a target of phishing and malware attacks. This densely populated African nation has been a target of cyber-attacks, but has lacked transparency in both reporting breaches and enforcing online security. Also, the Nigerian government has a history of trying to impose web censorship.
So, when signing on to the Nigerian internet, users should always use a strong, premium VPN. A VPN protects the user’s online connection that masks the user’s location and IP address. A VPN also protects against surveillance, online tracking and man-in-the-middle attacks.
MITM attackers use clever tactics both live attacks and injecting malware on the user’s device. Live MITM attacks can dupe the user into signing into fake websites and disclosing login information. VPNs also bypass geo-blocking and defeat unfair pricing practices.
Premium VPNs have distinct advantages over free VPN services. Free VPNs can compromise the user’s online anonymity and expose their systems to malware. Free VPNs can slow down the user’s internet experience with popup ads and restricting the user’s broadband width.
Premium, subscription-based VPN’s, on the other hand, have “no-logs” policies. They neither collect nor log user data. Premium VPNs also employ best-in-class encryption and security protocols. They do a better job in defeating VPN blockers.
A VPN must be considered as an important, but not the only element of, overall online security preparedness. Users need to load antivirus software, use their operating system built-in security—firewalls, encryption, etc.– and stay away from unsecured public Wi-Fi portals without using a VPN. Finally, for best web security, users should only enter websites that have HTTPS as part of the address designation.