The Nigerian Army on Tuesday commenced a nationwide Cyber-warfare exercise tagged Crocodile Smile VI. According to the statement released, Crocodile Smile is an exercise designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media.
The cyber warfare exercise comes at a time when the continued protest against Police brutality is making waves across the country. Owing to the fact that the #EndSARS protests started online before growing into a strong offline movement, many feared that the exercise is a counter to stop online protests.
The army has however revealed that the current exercise has nothing to do with the protest. According to the army spokesman, the Exercise Crocodile Smile is a yearly exercise that holds from October to December and has nothing to do with the protest.
“To now insinuate that it is an exercise meant to stifle the ongoing EndSARS protest is, to say the least highly misinformed. Exercise Crocodile Smile (VI) has nothing to do with the ongoing protest and the NA has never been involved in the ongoing protest in any form whatsoever.”
The cyber warfare command is composed of 150 ICT specially trained officers and men drawn from all the Corps and Services in the Nigerian Army.
According to the army, the Command has acquired state of the art technical equipment, servers have been procured and experts from IBM have configured them to track, monitor and carry out ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ to terrorist and subversive elements.
It will also monitor the Army’s networks and advise Field Commanders on how to use the newly procured computer-based weapons systems recently installed to the Theatre of Operations.
According to the Nigerian Army, this is the first-ever Cyberwarfare exercise to be conducted in the history of the African Armed Forces.
It’s no longer news that the digital world has brought about a new type of danger – cyberwar. The new war is fought with the power of technology, attacking nation’s computers or information networks to cause comparable harm to actual warfare – be it damage, death or destruction.
An example of cyberwarfare is Russia’s cyberattack on the Georgian government website and Chinese ‘nationalist hackers’ attack of CNN in 2008.
To face this new threat, many countries have commissioned cyber warfare divisions. Like Nigeria, the British Army recently announced a dedicated cyber warfare division.
Other countries like the United States, Russia, India, Pakistan, China, Israel, Iran, and North Korea have active cyber warfare capabilities.
The fast rate of development of information technology and the internet has made major national power contest by nations.
Should Nigerians be worried?
According to research, cyber warfares are often between nations. For example, in June 2019 the United States launched a cyber attack against Iranian weapons systems in retaliation to the shooting down of a US drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
In comparison, the Nigerian Army’s cyber warfare is directed inwards towards criminals in the country.
According to the army, “the exercise will include positive identification component aimed at identifying Boko Haram terrorists fleeing from the North East and other parts of the country as a result of the ongoing operations in the various theatres of operations especially in the Northeast, North Central and North Western parts of Nigeria”.
It added that the cyber warfare exercises are all-encompassing to include identification, tracking and counter negative propaganda in the social media and across the cyberspace.
Examining the army’s statement on the scope of the operation shows that they intend to cover all social media operations in the country. This could mean that they have the power to arrest anyone they feel is a threat to peace and democracy just by what he says online.
In retrospect, the Army had earlier said that it is highly committed to defending Nigeria’s democracy at all costs and warned “trouble makers to desist.
The part Nigerians should be overly careful about is who does the army label as trouble makers? Because it could easily be anyone, from the person who speaks harshly against the government on social media to the persons they feel are instigating violence through protests.
From experience, we know how easily governments can change the narratives of a situation to justify either the use of force or the arrest of persons they feel are a threat to their administrations.
The launch of the cyber warfare exercise is a step in the right direction, as the threats cyber attacks pose can be devastating. However, the scope and the power of the exercise pushes beyond the military scope into civilians space by giving them the power to track social media.
In comparison, US cyber division – Cyber Command focuses on neutralizing cyberattacks and defending military computer networks, not policing social media where citizens are exercising their freedom of expression.
Nothing in the Exercise Crocodile Smile VI’s scope of operation suggests that its purpose is to defend the army’s or the country’s computer and digital networks from cyberattacks. Rather, emphasis has been made on scouring social media to ‘counter negative propaganda.’
As it stands, if citizens worry that the Exercise Crocodile Smile might give the Army the power to enforce some parts of the social media bill that was rejected, who would blame them?