Today, millions of people remain excluded from the digital economy. Around 40% of the world’s population have no internet access, giving rise to a damaging digital divide.

Unsurprisingly, middle-income countries are keen for more of their citizens and businesses to harness the potential of the internet. However, they remain constrained by issues around affordable and secure internet connectivity; a lack of digital skills; ineffective governance of the internet; and inappropriate regulation of the ICT sector.

And even as they do improve digital access for their citizens, improvements in digital safety and security typically lag far behind. The gap between the two is fertile ground for cybercrime. Safe access remains a distant goal.

The longer that gap remains, the more people are at risk of harm. And the longer they remain at risk, the more likely they are to become disenfranchised from the digital revolution.

A double-edged sword

Improved digital access can therefore be a double-edged sword. The internet and digital technologies are powerful catalysts for economic growth and development – but they are also a growing source of criminal activity and covert operations by hostile nation states and other actors.

The cyber harms perpetrated by criminals and other threat actors act as a brake on development and prosperity gains. They reduce trust in technology and the internet, particularly among the economically vulnerable. Afraid and unsure, the very people who most need the socio-economic benefit of being online risk missing out.

Naturally, governments are doing all they can to shore up their cyber defences, making their systems and infrastructure more resilient and educating their populations on cybersecurity. Currently lacking the capacity to do all of this themselves, this represents a substantial challenge – but one that the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is working with foreign governments to help them address.

The Digital Access Programme

Through its Digital Access Programme (DAP), the FCDO, supported by KPMG, is working with five countries – Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia – to improve their digital capabilities. Backed by UK Aid funds from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, the DAP is the UK government’s largest ever overseas cyber capacity building project.

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Drawing on the UK’s depth and breadth of cyber experience, the DAP promotes affordable digital connectivity while also building trust and resilience within cyberspace and protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Pillar 1 of the programme focuses on helping the partner countries to improve digital access, reducing poverty and stimulating inclusive economic growth by bringing poor and excluded populations into the digital economy. In Pillar 2, with £10 million of funding, the focus switches from access to safety. Here, the aim is to provide technical assistance to strengthen defences against the cyber threats and harms that affect governments, businesses and citizens, especially vulnerable groups at risk of online abuse or exploitation.

Over an 18-month period from April 2021, the DAP is initially supporting 15 capacity building projects designed to reduce the threat of cyber harms. KPMG was engaged to plan, design and deliver these projects, working closely with partner organisations in those five countries to do so.

These projects cover a range of activities, from helping the Nigerian police develop its digital forensic capability to delivering Brazil’s new cybersecurity school curriculum; from developing Indonesia’s national cybersecurity strategy to improving the South African police’s ability to prosecute cyber criminals. In each instance, the ambition is to build a sustainable capability that allows national partner governments to better protect their citizens online or to defend their critical national infrastructure from cyber threats.