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Millions of Africa’s Internet Addresses Stolen

A pedestrian walks past an internet cafe in the low-income Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Millions of Africa’s Internet Addresses Stolen
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Industrialized nations have long used Africa to make money, enslaving its people and mining its gold and diamonds.

Digital resources are proving no different. Millions of internet IP addresses given to Africa have been taken, sometimes illegally.

An IP address, or internet protocol, is a one-of-a-kind address on the internet that belongs to an individual’s internet connection. IP addresses are assigned to parts of the world by the organization IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

Instead of serving Africa’s internet development, many of the IP addresses have been taken by criminals. Other addresses are being used for Chinese gambling and pornography websites.

Within Africa, the nonprofit AFRINIC gives out IP addresses. A top employee appears to have given out addresses illegally in a major fraud case. New leadership at AFRINIC, which is based in Mauritius, is working to take back the stolen addresses.

But a legal fight by a rich Chinese businessman is threatening AFRINIC’s existence.

The businessman is Lu Heng, from Hong Kong. It is unclear how he received 6.2 million African addresses from 2013 to 2016. That is about 5 percent of the continent’s total and more than all of Kenya. Now, those addresses are worth $150 million.

When AFRINIC took back the addresses, Lu fought back. In late July, his lawyers persuaded a judge in Mauritius to freeze the group’s bank accounts. His company also announced an $80 million defamation claim against AFRINIC and its new leadership.

The building housing the headquarters of AFRINIC, the nonprofit organization responsible for allocating Africa's IP address space, is seen near Port Louis in Mauritius Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/ L'express Maurice)
The building housing the headquarters of AFRINIC, the nonprofit organization responsible for allocating Africa's IP address space, is seen near Port Louis in Mauritius Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/ L'express Maurice)

Lu’s action is a shock to internet freedom supporters, who see the internet as a tool for advancing society. Some worry it could weaken the entire address system that makes the internet work.

The inside workings of the internet are little understood and rarely face public examination. Five nonprofit groups around the world decide who owns and operates the internet’s first-generation IP addresses. Created in 2003, AFRINIC was the last of the five groups to be created.

Lu told The Associated Press that he is honest and did not get the African addresses illegally. He also said that groups like AFRINIC should not decide where IP addresses are used.

“AFRINIC is supposed to serve the internet, it’s not supposed to serve Africa,” Lu said.

In taking back Lu’s addresses, AFRINIC is trying to reclaim internet space that is important for Africa’s development. The continent is behind the rest of the world in using internet resources to raise living conditions and improve health and education.

Africa has been given just 3 percent of the world’s first-generation IP addresses.

AFRINIC’s former number two official, Ernest Byaruhanga, was removed from the organization in 2019. He was accused of the theft of millions of AFRINIC IP addresses.

Byahuranga is believed to be living in his home country of Uganda, but could not be found for comment.

An Israeli business man also controls some AFRINIC IP addresses. He has also brought legal action against the organization for trying to reclaim the addresses.

I’m Dan Novak.

The Associated Press reported this story. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

gamble v. to play a game in which you can win or lose money or possessions : to bet money or other valuable things​

pornography n. movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement​

fraud n. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

defamation n. the act of saying false things in order to make people have a bad opinion of someone or something : the act of defaming someone or something​

misappropriate v. to take (something, such as money) dishonestly for your own use : to appropriate (something) wrongly​

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