It might not be a good time to wear your Guy Fawkes mask in Nairobi. In the last 48 hours, the Kenya military has been forced to open a new front, a cyber front. The Kenya Defence Forces began its week with news that its official communication channel on Twitter was no longer under its control. Together with the account of its media liaison officer, Major E. Chirchir, @kdfinfo was still being operated by an Anonymous-affiliated group at the time of writing this piece. It was laughable really, the lack of a response as the account tweeted taunts and political declarations for hours. Efforts to get it back eventually bore fruit but the accounts were promptly hacked again. For the second time and on the same day!
The top military brass and civilian honchos may not think the hacking is a credible security threat but it is. The internet and its spawns such as social media can no longer be regarded as a periphery communication tool. Even after the terrorist organisation AL Shabaab made it clear that it considers Twitter a primary communication and PR tool during last year’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall, the Kenya military still downplayed the potential and risks of cyber security. If nothing else, it furthers a common lethargy towards cyber security in Kenya and much of Africa. There has been little investment on that front as militaries battle home-grown and foreign terrorists eager to lay waste to the countries they swore to protect. It is time the cyber front was considered as crucial a front as any
The view seems to be that since it is Major E. Chirchir who introduced Twitter to military-civilian interaction, he should bear the brunt of the embarrassment of the hacking. The news reports that the police were hunting down the hackers were also laughable as the hackers know for a fact that the security have neither the tools nor the expertise to conduct an actual investigation beyond obtaining IP addresses. Any hacker worth the title knows better than to use their actual IP address. And there is a bubbling hacking culture among Kenya’s techies.
The question among Kenyan journos is whether or not this was a case of pure hacking or the liaison officer lost a crucial gadget such as a phone, tablet or laptop that contained such automatic access as to make the hacker’s work pure child play. At 8.44 am on 21 July 2014, @AnonymousKenya1 posted a photo it claimed the media refused to publish. It was a screenshot of Kenya Military Media Liaison Officer Major Chirchir’s official email inbox, displaying 12 messages dating from Jul 16 to July 20th. Another Anonymous affiliated Twitter account posted what seems to be a screen grab of a KDF press release in raw format. Since no official statements have been made, the speculation and citizen investigations continue. A lost gadget with integrated accounts may explain why even after control of the Twitter accounts was regained, the hacker went right back and reversed it. It may also be sending military intelligence on a frantic analysis of any sensitive information that may have been compromised.
This is not the first time hackers have targeted Kenya’s online assets. Two years ago, Indonesian Hacker known only by his moniker direxer pillaged over 100 government websites. He or she made a mockery of the entire cyber security system of the government but did no real harm other than defacing the Kenya police website. The worst damage was that the hacking exposed the fragility of Kenya cyber defence systems. In March 2014, the Ministry of Transport’s website was also hacked. The next major attack is the ongoing one that began with the hacking of KDF’s online Twitter assets and then spread to GOK websites such as netfund.go.ke and the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS). In characteristic Anonymous modus operandi, all that was left of the websites’ content was a huge banner with the signature soundtrack playing in the background.
Had @Anon_OxO3 not rushed to claim responsibility for the hack, they would have had the window of opportunity to spread misinformation whilst masquerading as the Kenyan military. To Anonymous, hacking the two Twitter accounts must have been a mere walk in the park. This is the same hacking group that wrecked havoc to the Associated Press last year, and has engaged on its own #OpSaveGaza campaign which has resulted in the hacking of multiple Israeli websites including its defence ministry’s website. The Kenyan campaign has local undertones, touching on issues that Kenyans are becoming increasingly vocal about. It might be prudent to note that although there are at least three Anonymous Kenya pages and communities on Facebook, and at least two on Twitter, all of them seem to have been late to the hacking party. The potential of the hacking group to misinform is hindered by its own hubris, which is characteristic of hackers for whom obtaining control is the ultimate high. What they do with that control after is secondary.
According to a report titled Kenya Cyber Security Report 2014 by Serianu Limited, the Kenya cyber insecurity landscape grew by 108 percent from 2012 to 2013 alone. This meteoric rise in cyber insecurity cases is driven mainly by cyber attacks on financial institutions, as well as botnet attacks from malicious computers. Most of them are characteristic of a country that is gobbling up internet access, as more access points means more risks. For hackers these risks are a godsend. Couple that with the numerous back doors to websites that should ideally be the most secure and you have a country that has porous borders both offline and online.