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Cyber Security in Kenya: Do we have the capacity?

Louis Otieno, Microsoft EA

Louis Otieno of Microsoft EA at Connected Kenya, Mombasa

Connected Kenya 2013 happened in the last week of May and was very well attended by most CIOs and CEOs in Kenya. Some of the sponsors at this year’s convention were big names like SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and Google.

In one of the evening invite only Fireside sessions hosted by Louis Otieno and Paul Roy from Microsoft, the main topic of discussion was Cyber Security. The sessions started of with questions on how we are going to protect ourselves and our children from online attacks.

“We live in a very connected world that most of us now call a Global Village. Imagine your 13 or 14 year old daughter seated upstairs at home chatting with someone halfway across the world. You’re a parent seated away from them either at work or busy elsewhere and therefore, you don’t know what your daughter is doing,” commented Louis Otieno, Legal and Corporate Affairs Director for Africa Initiatives at Microsoft. “Should we just shut down this ‘pipe’ and stick to the infrastructure we’re using now? Aren’t we to exposed”

Let me paint the picture for you – Months later, after she meets a ‘friend’ online, your daughter walks out of home to go and finally meet this other 14 year old girl she met virtually. Unknown to her, the person on the other side is not really a 14 year old girl; it is a 30 year old pedophile masquerading as a 14 year old out to harm your child. What do you do? Just the thought of this sends shivers down many parents’ spines when they imagine their children online.

Who will protect our children?

Kenya has terminated fiber cables at the Coast of Mombasa and this has landed the country (and African continent) massive opportunities to connect to the rest of the World. It is now easy for a doctor to conduct a surgery on a patient in Kenya all the way from India. It is possible for an engineer in Redmond to troubleshoot a Microsoft System Center installation in Nanyuki thanks to architecture like Mawingu White Spaces too. All this and we are currently only using about 6% of our capacity.

However, just like with every good thing, the massive bandwidth comes with a downside. We leave ourselves exposed to hackers and online criminals who attack us using this very medium. Media reports indicate that banks are losing billions in cyber crime, government websites are getting defaces by Thais sitting on another continent.

What is the solution? There is no quick fix to these problems. Like in most other criminal situations, we have to always stay one step ahead. The Kenyan government (and all Kenyan companies following suit) needs to invest in Research and Development to train our cyber experts to monitor, detect and stop hackers in their tracks. This is something we seemingly haven’t done yet. Maybe it is an issue of budget; or an issue of policy. Kenya’s new government is touted as the most digital government Kenya has ever seen.

In 2014, the Kenyan government will start the laptops (or smart devices) for class ones programme that will see an even higher population connected than ever before. Such programmes have successfully been run in countries like Portugal where 1 million devices Are they going to be safe? Are we going to have them in managed environments so that our children are protected against pornography and pedophilia?

These are some of the questions we ought to be asking ourselves.

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Until we have a clear plan on how to tackle cyber crime, we may have started to fight a losing battle.


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