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Growth in connectivity spurs African hacker community

o Rebecca Wanjiku
20.10.2010 kl 16:40 | Computerworld Kenya

Growth in African connectivity and poor investment in security on the part of businesses and government has spurred the rise of hackers, both malicious and constructive, across the continent.

 

Growth in African connectivity and poor investment in security on the part of businesses and government has spurred the rise of hackers, both malicious and constructive, across the continent.

Increasingly, government and corporate websites and databases are being attacked, with vital information stolen. Meanwhile there has been a rise in the number of "white hat" security experts who have worked with site and business owners to alert them of security threats and gaps.

"The availability of super fast affordable Internet has allowed many people to rush to technology but without focus on threat of cybercrime; the hacking space in East Africa is now rising at an alarming rate with many hackers being lured into it by the fast cash," said Fredrick Wahome, managing director of Secunets Technologies in Kenya.

The connectivity growth has allowed banks to offer online banking services, but they often do not seal security holes. This has allowed young tech savvy employees to exploit online customers. Some local techies have said they resorted to publicly exposing businesses' security vulnerabilities after their efforts to get the attention of management proved futile.

The lack of attention on the part of management has led to hackers seeking to engage with "white hat" security experts and hopefully raise awareness of the need for security and penetration testing.

"We will identify the vulnerabilities and try to report them both publicly and privately depending on severity, receptiveness without causing bad press for black hat," said Douglas Onyango, CTO of Delta IT Solutions in Uganda.

At the same time, hacking events such as Random Hacks of Kindness that have been organized in the region to raise awareness and develop applications that can be used in times of disaster.

"Random Hacks of Kindness brought together software developers to respond to challenges facing humanity in the area of natural disaster by building software solutions that make a difference on the ground," said Linda Kamau, a developer with Ushahidi and the coordinator of the event.

The first hacker event was organized in June as part of a global coordinated event but the developers have been organizing monthly overnight hacker events that have yielded important applications.

"Developers have come up with important apps; person-finder technology that includes a database scheme to synchronize multiple databases; a 'need help' mobile application to receive emergency messages; and a website to register emergencies and forward text messages to a mobile number," added Kamau.

The Random Hacks of Kindness event is usually held at the Innovation Hub in Nairobi and developers participating have been invited to test sites and tech installations before launch or track malicious hackers.

"Hacking costs time and money to organizations and many have realized, after we alert them, of the bugs," said Marie Githinji, a developer and participant in Random Hacks. "During the launch of one of the e-commerce sites, we were invited to test and track any attacks."

The financial costs of security have sometimes put off companies from engaging security professionals, but multinational corporations in telecommunications and banking have been breached.

"About 90 percent of the Fortune 500 operating in Kenya have been successfully attacked; in these companies you will find 70 percent of the IT administrators are non-technical and are expected to protect company perimeter," added Secunets' Wahome.

To tackle issues of cyber crime and malicious attacks, governments in the region have started developing cybercrime policies even though they are yet to be passed into law.

Keywords: Telecommunication  Security  
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