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Are You Using Any of Africa’s Most Common Passwords?

In 2021 the Kenyan cybersecurity firm Serianu recently placed the cost of cybercrime on Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) at a troubling $4.1 billion. The continent has been hit hard throughout the Covid-19 crisis, with threat actors taking advantage of the weak networks and relaxed cybersecurity policies in many nations.

Tarek Sharif, Executive Director of the African Union Mechanism for Police Cooperation (AFRIPOL), noted “We are witnessing an upsurge in activities related to Cybercrime, especially in this COVID-19 pandemic period.”

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As a case in point, in September 2021 South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development faced a ransomware attack. It had a debilitating effect on all the organization’s digital systems. This attack occurred just months after July’s ‘Death Kitty’ incident that targeted sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest container port. While CIO reports that security measures across the continent are tightening in general, and there is cause for hope, the onus for better security still falls on individuals and organizations.

Common passwords in Africa and worldwide

Research into the most common passwords in use globally shows that far too many people are using easy-to-hack options such as “qwerty”, “password”, and even “1234”.

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In Africa, the most common passwords vary from country to country but there is significant crossover. For example, in Nigeria, it’s “123456”, and the same password takes pole position in South Africa. Meanwhile, in francophone nations “azerty” – the French version of “qwerty” ranks high on the list. In Arabic-speaking nations, “bismillah” was found to be in common use.

As we enter a hyper digitalized age, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the dangers of using common passwords.

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Passwords are one of the most common forms of security for individuals and organizations, but they’re also one of the easiest ways to get hacked. A recent study found that nearly half of all people use at least one password that could be cracked in less than five seconds, while only eight percent of people have strong passwords that are difficult to crack.

In 2022, passwords such as “iloveyou”, “liverpool”, and ‘christ’ (all of which are popular in Africa) don’t offer enough security.

Password hacks and leaks can have major consequences

The dangers are not just theoretical — in fact, they could be deadly. In February 2019, for instance, hackers used a password leak to gain access to an Australian power company’s network and shut off power in several cities; they threatened to do it again unless they were paid $150 million within 72 hours.

Fortunately, the threat was ignored, and no further payments were made by the deadline. However, this incident highlights how easy it is for hackers to gain access to critical infrastructure through a simple password leak.

In addition to accessing sensitive information about individuals or organizations, hackers can also use common passwords as a gateway into other accounts belonging to those individuals or organizations (such as bank accounts). This makes it easier for them to commit identity theft or other crimes against people or entities.

You could be at risk if you’re currently using any of the world’s most common passwords, any that are in high use in the continent, or engaging in bad password habits:

  • Including personally identifying information such as names, birth dates, addresses, and even pet names.
  • Using a single password across numerous accounts.
  • Linking many accounts to one other account, such as your Facebook or Google account.
  • Using common passwords such as those detailed above.
  • Using consecutive numbers or letters (for instance, abcdefg) or including known words or phrases in your passwords.
James Musoba
James Musoba
Studying Africa's startup and technology scene. I always look forward to discovering new exciting inventions and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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