ITU:Why it is important to combat counterfeit and substandard ICT devices

Counterfeiting is a negative activity that is affecting almost all areas of economies and has incidentally become a menace in the Internet world. Apart from selling of fake products online, the production and sale of imitated or counterfeit products create huge market for products that hurt the producers of the genuine goods and also create a menancing health risk to the users.

Most ICT devices that have hit the market include mobile phones and smart devices, cameras, printer consumables such as toners and cartridges, memory sticks, drives, monitors, networking equipment such as Cat-5/Cat-6 structure cabling, switches and routers.

The IACC (International Anticounterfeiting Coalition) estimates that brand holders lose approximately US $600 billion of revenue annually due to counterfeiting. According to the study by the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau (CIB) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Counterfeiting accounts for between 5–7 per cent of world trade, worth an estimated US $600 billion a year. It has to be stopped, and the CIB is a focal point for those wanting to fight this growing problem. The Imaging Supplies Coalition, has estimated worldwide impact of counterfeiting as US $3.5 to US $5 billion annually.

The East African Community (EAC) is conducting a study on how the region can adopt a harmonized law to protect brand owners from counterfeit goods. Strong anti-counterfeiting policy in the region is essential if it is attract more foreign rights holders as it moves to establishing a common market in this started in 2010.

Effects of using Counterfeit ICT products
Some listed effects from the use of counterfeit products include, rampant network disruptions and interoperability challenges, poor quality of service leading to higher dropped calls and higher incidences of poor reception, devices suffering from short circuits or overheating. Health effects to users such as the possibility of the substandard materials, shown to contain dangerous levels of metals used to make counterfeit phones possibly leading to illness, inferior operating systems susceptible to fraudulent applications that encourage cyber crime and mismarking of cables in standards observation such as marking cables as 24 gauge when actually they were non-specific 26 AWG thus misleading the users and resulting in negative values from expected signal transmission levels.

Use of ICTs, standards and other technologies are currently being tested, or could be implemented in the future, as tools to fight counterfeit and/or substandard ICT devices.

Efforts which have so far been made to likely fend off increasing use of counterfeit products, especially in the African countries such as Kenya include: Denial of service to new counterfeit mobile phones through identification of unregistered IMEI, innovative hologram security stickers and QR Codes, use of the Near-field (or nearfield) communication (NFC) technologies that could help eliminate the use of pins though this can be a potentially slightly higher-cost approach, cryptography digital signatures and certificates among others.

Other efforts to fight counterfeit products in collaboration with stakeholders
The war on counterfeit ICT products could help in improving the bridging of the digital divide and increase the use of ICTs that are sustainable and affordable. Specifically, agencies can require users to purchase from authorized and trusted sources only, by certifying resellers, partners and supply agencies users are able to obtain warranties and also get after sale services. Increase awareness and encourage information sharing by agencies with industry to that will then build into an updated vendor database.

Other methods would be to create and design incentives and awards for businesses to certify their product security practices as trusted providers, this will ensure that the desire to supply genuine ICT products is appreciated. Enforcement of quality of service standards for service providers and a constant independent review of the existing licensing regimes which can result in the reduction of licensing fees in the sector and therefore encourage more authorization.

The Anti-Counterfeit Agency partnership approach in the war against counterfeits should be multi-pronged and therefore guided by the realization that there is need for collaboration both within relevant government agencies, private sector and development partners. Such efforts include supported raids and prosecutions around the world to protect customers from counterfeit consumables and products, which unknowingly lead to damaged equipment, shoddy output and higher costs. Improvement of and fast track laws around managing counterfeits in the market such as the Kenya Anti-counterfeits Bill of 2008.

Here’s DCA’s contribution to the ITU Event on Combating counterfeit and substandard ICT devices ITU Headquarters, (Geneva, Switzerland, 17-18 November 2014).

(The writer is Senior Project Engineer, DCA Registry Services Kenya and ISOC Kenya Member. He is an Internet Governance enthusiast and technology critic, an active member of ISOC Kenya who participates regularly in Internet Governance, DNS and Security Fora, and in ICANN GNSO working groups).

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