Why Kenyans should take cyber security seriously 0 326

  • Cybersecurity can contribute immensely to the creation of quality employment opportunities for Kenyan citizens.
  • Kenya is yet to embrace any effective data protection regulations and the consequences are pretty evident in the Kenyan digital economy.
  • With the increased terrorist activities within Kenya, the Internet presents national enemies such as the Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups with a unique and ubiquitous opportunities.
Kenyan cyber security

There is no simple way to say this. Cybercriminals are pilfering Kenyans blind. The latter statement has been evidenced by the statistics present in the recent Cybersecurity Report published by Serianu, which asserts that Kenya lost about $175million last year. Moreover, the Report managed to establish that cybercrime perpetrators are deliberately targeting the Kenyan digital economy with the intention of wreaking havoc and making away with millions.

In terms of cyber resilience, the Kenyan digital economy can be likened to a slow, plump gazelle stumbling through the “cyber-savannah” in the full view of agile, informed and hungry cyber-predators who have begun to sink their teeth into their sumptuous prize.

Another daunting revelation is that organisations which have suffered substantial data breaches (which include reputable banks, insurance companies and SMEs) have decided to remain mum, much to the detriment of their clientele whose actual data is exploited for monetary gain by cybercriminals.

Regardless of the increased cybercrime incidents within the region, the state of Kenya’s digital economy is indeed on the rise.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of the private and public sector in creating an enabling environment, statistics published by the Communication Authority of Kenya in the first quarter of the 2016-2017 financial year highlight that the internet penetration rate in Kenya is at a robust 85%, with over 37 million internet subscribers who exchange data over various internet-based platforms.

These glowing statistics indicate the notable confidence in the quality of service provided by various digital companies. The latter can be attributed to the numerous marketing campaigns designed to reinforce consumer trust in digital services, but can Kenyans really trust good PR routines when it comes to the safety of their data?

The internet penetration rate in Kenya is at a robust 85%, with over 37 million internet subscribers Click to Tweet

What is in it for Kenyans if they begin to take their cyber security more seriously?

1. Jobs, Jobs and more Jobs:

Unemployment is a major challenge that affects youth across Kenya. Approximately 800,000 young Kenyans enter the labour market every year and youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 35%, compared to the overall national unemployment rate of 10%.

Furthermore, 80% of unemployed Kenyans are below 35 years old. Notably, However, 70 per cent of the employed lot are under paid hence unable to take care of day-to-day needs. Thus, it can be demonstrated that unemployment will remain a thorn in the flesh until quality jobs can be created to further the development of the Kenyan populace.

Cybersecurity can contribute immensely to the creation of quality employment opportunities for Kenyan citizens.

Per the Kenya Cybersecurity Report, published by Serianu in 2016, the current number of internet subscribers stands at 37,716,579 users who are in turn served by only about 1400 certified cybersecurity professionals (these professionals are categorised as individuals who have attained CISA, CISM, GIAC, SANS, CISSP, CEH, ISO 27001 and PCI DSS QA certification).

Teddy Kungu, Country Manager of ESET East Africa has been famously quoted for stating that each cyber security professional in Kenya serves a population of at least 280000 citizens.

Per a 2003 study carried out by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT), it was recommended that ideally one information security professional should serve every 1000 general users.

Not only does it makes sense to fill the demand for cybersecurity specialists, it also makes a lot of cents.

Jobs in the field of cyber security are outpacing job creation in the IT industry and can pay up to $6,500 USD more annually, or almost 10% more, than the average salary of average IT workers.

While many job positions in cybersecurity will require additional certifications, such as the CISSP, it’s far from impossible to migrate into a security position from other IT focuses. For newcomers to the IT field, there is also room to start out on a cyber security career path beginning with an entry level role as a security analyst.

2. Tougher Protection Regulations will Protect Citizens

Kenya is yet to embrace any effective data protection regulations and the consequences are pretty evident in the Kenyan digital economy.

Institutions handling sensitive data, such as banks, insurance firms and hospitals have no legislative obligation to disclose any data breach incidents to their unsuspecting clients.

The latter has contributed significantly to the web of secrecy spun around the value and occurrence of cyber crime incidents within Kenya. Kenya needs to note that clandestine behaviour only favours cyber criminals who thrive in markets that suffer silently.

Notably, most cyber crime occurrences chiefly affect the constitutional rights of consumer protection and privacy, significantly injuring the citizens.

With the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulations in Europe, which compel institutions to disclose data breaches which affect EU citizens and non-EU citizens alike within European data centres, cyber criminals may be forced to seek greener pastures to ply their trade.

Kenya is a prime target, with immense income potential but not much regulatory and technical might. Cyber crime will continue to escalate in our region if citizens remain indifferent and the Government continues to rest on its laurels when it comes to updating their policies regarding cyber security in Kenya.

3. Cyber-bulling among the Youth needs better safeguards

The dark nexus between education, young minds and inadequate safeguards against cyber aggression has led to truly tragic cases of cyber-bulling within the developed and developing world.

An apt definition of cyber-bulling was coined by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in South Africa which stated that cyber bullying, cyber violence, cyber aggression, internet bullying, electronic bullying, internet harassment or online harassment are terms used to refer to violence and aggression perpetrated through ICTs.

These cruel acts may include the sending of harassing emails or instant messages, posting obscene, insulting and slanderous messages on online bulletin boards or social networking sites, or developing web pages to promote and disseminate defamatory content.

The impact of cyber-bulling is particularly significant among girls.

Per a Report regarding cyber-violence against women and girls, published by The United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender, about 73% of women and girls are abused online.

Kenyans need to act against these occurrences as it is in their best interest to protect the dignity of their women and children whilst enjoying digital services.

4. Children Need to be protected from Radicalisation and the Internet

With the increased terrorist activities within Kenya, the Internet presents national enemies such as the Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups with a unique and ubiquitous opportunity to access the susceptible young minds of our children to plant their vindictive perceptions of society.

Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz, an internationally acclaimed expert on national security engagement and counter-terrorism produced a radicalization process model which highlights the initial need for a cognitive opening.

For the process of radicalization to achieve success, there must be an avenue to connect with a person who is receptive to the possibility of new ideas and world views. He highlights that insofar as the nexus between digital connectivity and radicalism is concerned, impressionability is vulnerability.

Impressionability is vulnerability. Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz Click to Tweet

It is thus vital that whenever digital devices are availed to children safeguards should effectively be put in place. This should be widely adopted by Kenyan families through parents and legal guardians whose societal duty is to preserve the morality of their children.

Ignorance Injures Kenya’s socio-economic development

In one of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s landmark speeches, he famously stated that there existed three enemies to the Statehood of Kenya; the first was poverty, the second : disease and lastly: the plight of ignorance.

The ignorance of the impact of cybercrime within Kenya has already cost the nation millions of dollars and it threatens to exploit the data footprint of past, present and future generations. Kenyans must recognize the incentives of standing up for their data security and accept their role as guardians of their own information.

In order to enjoy safer technology, we must understand that security begins with you and me.

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Mobile World Congress: Introducing 5G 0 286

Year after year Mobile World Congress (MWC) takes place in Barcelona, Spain. It is an event that brings together almost every vendor related to the mobile industry to show off their shiny new gadgets, apps and services in our ever-increasingly-connected world.

One of the hot topics surrounding this world at MWC 2018 was 5G — the next generation of mobile connectivity.

What is 5G and how will it affect us?

If we look back at previous incarnations of mobile networks, 1G, 2G and so on, there have been major changes to the technology. The next generation, 5G, delivers greater speed and lower latency, but also has the advantage of being able to connect many more devices concurrently. This is one of the reasons why MWC has gone from being just a show promoting smartphone manufacturers and operators to a gathering of companies showing off connected world devices that could benefit from being connected to a 5G network.

The reality is that none of the existing technologies will disappear anytime soon, in fact the speed that can be achieved on the existing network are up to 1.2Gbps. So, asking the sales representatives in a phone shop about a new 5G handset will probably have them wondering what you’re talking about.

The existing infrastructure for 4G relies on cell towers/masts, typically with reasonable distances between them, whereas 5G is based on smaller, more frequent cells. The smaller cells help deliver the additional bandwidth and lower latency as the network becomes more distributed. The speeds are reportedly able to deliver 20Gbps with just 1ms latency.

Any new networks require licenses, funding and significant effort to introduce them. In the US, AT&T claims it will be the first company with a 5G network, that will cover 12 cities by the end of 2018 and aimed at the mobile phone market. Verizon is taking a different approach and intends on implementing 5G to compete with existing home internet service providers, and with the speed and capacity available on a 5G network this could be a very competitive offering.

Many exhibition halls at MWC had devices designed for the smart city, driverless cars, smart bandages that track your healing, through to virtual reality gaming.

While faster speed is a result of the improved technologies, it is the low latency and capacity that will enable these technologies to deliver a world where just about everything could be connected. The need for capacity is compounded once the connected devices start talking to each other. For example, the future driverless car may be able to communicate with other cars, traffic monitoring, or sensors on the roads and take actions based on the environment around it.

While some 5G smartphone handsets may start to appear on shelves in 2018, we should expect the main vendors to start offering them in 2019.

The rollout of 5G is moving quicker in some regions than others, as already discussed, carriers in the US see competitive advantage and have already announced their plans. Other countries that have openly stated their commitment to early adoption of 5G are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Norway, and I am sure this list will grow. In Europe, commitment from both regulators and financiers for the new networks is slower. This could be seen as a competitive disadvantage, or you could view this as sensibly waiting to allow others to experience the difficulties of early adopter first.

As with any new technology there are security considerations. Providers of services will need to combat the expected evolution of advanced malware that will accompany the new 5G infrastructure and implement threat prevention services and solutions that deliver security through layers, including machine learning, to deal with the increased network performance and capacity. Threat intelligence and pro-active security measures are essential components for any device or service being developed to utilize 5G, secure by design.

It is important to remember that understanding the psychology and mindset of the cybercriminal is also important, and for this, deep research by experts in the security field will help the industry predict where the attackers may see the next opportunity. So, while 5G will move us quicker, the benefit of added speed will have a cost and means that for the time being the human component in maintaining safer technology remains crucial.

Smart, Smarter… Dumbest… 0 267

Technological evolution: who hasn’t heard of this yet? It brings happiness into our lives, more convenience and less cumbersome usage, more and more possibilities for the user… Why make life (more) difficult when it can be made so (much more) convenient?

Just look at a communication device that you cannot ignore anymore, even if you wanted to: the smart phone. For the younger generation, it’s as if a cybernetic system is prosthetically attached to their arms; resisting it is futile! And they want their phones to become smarter and smarter, taking over more and more functions of their daily lives.

Now this is, of course, heaven for manufacturers: they can all battle to find new unique money-making features to add… or to make one that already exists much better. Likewise for the developers of dedicated apps (think, for example mobile banking). Innovation to make our daily lives “easier and easier”, basically a one-click life.

With the technology evolving at an ever faster pace, and an increasing focus on being the first to have the latest selling point, thoughts of security tend to be secondary, at best. This creates more possibilities for hackers, those that want to steal information, eavesdrop, etc. As these new features are introduced more and more often, and with more and more haste, in the smarter phones, so the probability of zero-day exploits becomes higher.

It seems that with the speed of technological evolution, the “urge” of people to use new features as soon as possible – even though they may not even exist right now and while these tasks can already be done in ‘the old way’ – is unstoppable. And at the same time we complain about data leakage, data loss, lack of privacy and insecure operating systems.

Maybe it is time to press pause and make it all secure, or more secure, dial back on the technological potential technological possibilities – making devices more controllable. There is definitely a demand for that, too. Just last week the Dutch Government announced that officials must switch to dumb(er) phones, deliberately equipped with low-tech specifications, making it harder for hackers to intercept them. The new phones only can be used for calls or SMS; they lack the ability to install apps or connect to the internet (I still remember those (brick) phones from the late 90’s!). While the prime-minister and some ministers already use such a device, others will have to “abandon” their current mobile phones when travelling to specific countries or regions and will be issued with such a low-tech phone and urged to leave their regular phone at home. This should make communication secure, or at least less insecure’, since the replacement mobile phone has been prepared, checked and certified by the Dutch Secret Service. A great step back, getting rid of security by obscurity, and prioritizing safety over features.

The example of the Dutch Government is not an isolated incident, it seems to become a trend. Earlier this year, the White House banned personal cell phones from the West Wing, citing security concerns. Staff will be able to continue to carry out their business on government-issued devices.

But of course it is not only the device that needs to be more secure. You, the user of the device, have to be aware of security issues too, such as not taking a personal phone with you on business trips, but also making and receiving calls with your secure phone in a secure environment, making sure that there are no cameras or listening devices, and no windows conveniently nearby so that lip-readers can do their job. And then making sure you whisper as the walls in the hotel may be thin, and… Oh wait… Remote laser vibration sensors can decode the audio! Best to go into the hotel room bathroom, close the door (they tend to have some soundproofing), turn on the shower and stand quite close to it while calling… Am I getting paranoid?

By all means, let’s not get too James Bond-ishly paranoid. For politicians, top managers of large multinationals dealing with sensitive information that could affect stock markets, those who deal with (trade) secrets and intellectual property: this may be an issue and they should take the necessary precautions. But revert completely to using only a dumb phone, even for normal calls asking, for example, how grandmother is doing?

Just remember that in the past, listening in on calls made on the analog telephone system with no encryption was really easy. Technology brought us a long way ahead, but perhaps a bit too fast. A small step back, made by securing the current “standard”, is more feasible than complete eradication of what has been created and accepted as a normal part of our daily lives. Such a complete reversion would not even be considered acceptable anymore if we were to disallow commonly-used devices.

Are you going to tell your teenage and pre-teenage children that a hot-off-the-press-release model smartphone with the newest features is now prohibited, and an old phone that can only call/text is all that’s available? They will be angry, feel ashamed of their old-fashioned parents, and will not go out anymore as they refuse to have their friends see them with such a simplistic, dumb phone. As they will not be able to interact with their friends anymore, because social media apps do not exist for their dumb phone (and since they won’t leave the house anymore), they will have to talk to you again.

Wait a minute??? Kids that start to talk to their parents again… But that’s a good thing! Where can I get one of these phones?!