Dr Hatwib Mugasa, the Executive Director of the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) is a well read, well researched and well studied man in areas of computer technology, telecommunications and innovation research. Before his appointment to NITA-U, he worked at MTN Uganda’s IT Department as a Senior System support analyst and Manager Mobile Money systems. He has also been a Principal Software Engineer at the Faculty of Computing and IT, Makerere University, and a Sales Administrator at Premier Packaging Uganda Limited.
In the academia, Dr. Mugasa holds a Doctorate (PhD) in Computational Analysis and Modeling, he also has an interdisciplinary degree in Computational Mathematics, Data Science and Statistics. He has two (2) Masters of Science Degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from the Louisiana Tech University and also holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from Makerere University.
National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), on July 8th, 2021 launched a Cyber Security Awareness Campaign aimed at increasing public awareness and vigilance about the day-to-day cyber threats. The campaign is funded by the World Bank as part of the Regional Communications Infrastructure Project (RCIP).
The ED, Dr. Mugasa recently held a Question & Answer session with the press on Cyber Security and other activities of NITA-U and our Reporter was there to cover it.
QN: The Cyber Security campaign could not have come at a more appropriate time than today when organizations and businesses are moving online. In Uganda’s perspective, what were the major reasons that informed this campaign?
Dr. Mugasa: The growth in the ICT infrastructure, Internet usage and online access have opened new opportunities for the country especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we speak, there are 20 million internet subscriptions in Uganda which means that half of our population is actively using the internet. With the increase in use of the internet and e-services, the need for cyber security is key in order to avoid cyber fraud and maintain trust in the use of these services. Information security also serves broader national security goals by protecting critical national infrastructure within the information and communication sector. The best way to increase knowledge amongst the public on how to keep their data safe against cybercriminals is through awareness. This is because the threats and tactics keep on evolving. It is on this basis that we launched the National cybersecurity awareness campaign. Its objective is to equip citizens with the right information on how best they can protect themselves while they use the internet. We have also put in place a centralized website www.besafeonline.ug – that is a central knowledge hub for anyone seeking information and best practices on cybersecurity.
QN: Who are some of your implementing partners in the cyber security campaign and what do they do?
Dr. Mugasa: This campaign is one of several initiatives under the Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme (RCIP) funded by the World Bank which aims to create a secure cyberspace. Soon, still under RCIP, Government of Uganda will be unveiling the National Cybersecurity Strategy for Uganda. The other partners are the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance who play a supervisory role, Uganda Police Force who are in charge of investigating cyber related crime and the Sauti Child Helpline.
QN: What are some of the common mistakes that internet users need to guard themselves against?
Dr. Mugasa: A big percentage of security breaches are a result of human error; many times we are the weakest link when it comes to cyber security. Some of the common mistakes we make include;
1. Using very weak passwords on e-mail and social media applications (twitter, Instagram, etc) that can be easily guessed or cracked by cyber criminals. Such weak passwords are normally short, include only text/letters, use of names (your name, spouse, children, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc) as passwords. A talented hacker can break into your account and in the worst case hijack the account. The best way to use a strong password is to make it long, at least 10 characters long with a mix of symbols, numbers, upper case and lower case letters. You can also use a password manager and enable two factor authentication for your e-mail and social media to deter hackers.
2. Posting very personal and sensitive content on social media platforms could expose of your online profile to hackers who could use it to target you and your close contacts or family members with fictitious claims. We advise you to post less of sensitive information on your social media applications.
3. Using counterfeit software or outdated software programs on laptops is a security risk too. This leaves you exposed to hackers as there is no guarantee for baseline security. We advise users to use only licensed software (if it is proprietary software) and always keep updating software on all their devices including mobile applications, as and when the software publishers release updates. For example, if you use Windows as your operating system, you should really be working on the latest version of the Operating System because they’ll have the most up-to-date security patches to the Operating System.
4. You should also be wary of Shopping websites that offer popular brands at great deals, they could be fake websites. Cybercriminals are known to setup fictitious online shopping website that look legitimate with offers and prices that are too good to be true. These websites are meant to steal your hard earned money. If it looks too good to be true, it’s good practice to do a bit of due diligence and ‘google’ the online site to find out if there are any reported incidents of a scam or fraud related to the site before you make a purchase.
QN: At the end of this campaign, what will be some of the success indicators that NITA will look at and know it was a great campaign or it lacked somewhere?
Dr. Mugasa: We would like to catalyze the growth of a cybersecurity aware mindset amongst internet users. This will go a long way in promoting trust in the use of internet enabled services offered by both Government and the private sector. Ultimately, we will keep this campaign running, awareness does not stop!
QN: How has NITA helped with business continuity during the pandemic?
Dr. Mugasa: Any response to control and combat the spread a disease during a pandemic should be swift and adaptive to rapid change. It should be scalable and proportionate to the risk apatite of Government. As soon as the call for response effort was set in motion, as NITA-U we swiftly instituted a Pandemic Response Plan to guide Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies in establishing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Together with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and UNDP, NITA-U rolled out Zoom across Government from the first lock down in March, 2020 to enable online meetings, workshops, conferences etc in order to allow for Government business to continue during the lockdown.
In partnership with Ministry of Education, UNICEF and NCDC, NITA-U is providing a free digital learning tool called Kolibiri to keep children learning from home. From the first lockdown to date, there over 4575 users who are benefiting from Kolibri.
To eliminate long lines and crowds at the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), NITA-U developed an Appointment System (https://servicebooking.nira.go.ug) that enables citizens schedule appointments for all of NIRA’s services like registration and replacement of a National ID.
We continue to support various Government Ministries and Authorities in the development of digital solutions to ease this new normal. For example, NITA-U supported the Ministry of Health to develop the COVID19 Information Portal (https://covid19.gou.go.ug) that provides daily statistics and information related to Government’s fight against the pandemic, we supported Ministry of Works & Transport with development of a Travel Permit System (https://clearance.works.go.ug) to ease movement during the second lockdown, we digitized the licensing process at National Forest Authority by developing an e-License System, among other things.
QN: H.E the President of Uganda in his televised address recently thanked NITA-U for saving Government UGX500 million through designing a system for COVID-19 Fund distribution, what was the role of NITA-U in COVID-19 relief funds distribution?
Dr. Mugasa: Under the National COVID-19 Relief Sub Committee, with the guidance of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, NITA-U designed and development a digital COVID-19 Relief Fund Management System. The system was used by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development by to collect information about vulnerable people, validate and authenticate beneficiaries for the fund. NITA-U also provided technical support, conducted technical trainings and provided hosting services for the system in the National Cloud Data Center.