Care needed in handling vital information in face of hackers

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By WANJOHI GITHAE
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After recent revelations that hackers had attacked several institutions, including crucial government agencies, focus now turns on the handling of official information.

While it may have been more complex for the hackers to access the systems of the Kenya Revenue Authority and the National Transport and Safety Authority, experts say there is increasing concern that widespread use of private e-mail addresses to communicate sensitive information provides a soft target.

Even more worrying is whether the information shared among government officials through the private e-mail addresses is archived for future reference.

Since the Narc administration took big strides in embracing e-government in 2004, there has been minimal progress in ensuring security of official information at a time when hacking — some of it thought to be sponsored by various countries — is a global concern.

Now experts warn that while improved internet access is an advantage for Kenya, it also attracts local and international hackers.

Mr Samson Wanjohi, a developer whose Shulepro software is used by schools to store and manage their data, says the risks from hackers cannot be over stated.

“Fast internet is good for business but it’s a double edged sword. You get sophisticated hackers dropping by,” he said.  

In the past, there has been defacing of a number of government websites in January 2012 by a hacker believed to be from Indonesia. In 2014, the Twitter accounts of Deputy President William Ruto, Kenya Defence Forces and that of its then spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir were also hacked.

Mr Wanjohi noted that in 2015 the Indian government banned all employees from conducting official business on Gmail because of concerns over surveillance by US spy agencies.

In the US, the use of a private server returned to haunt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in last year’s elections. She used it when she was Secretary of State. There have also been allegations that Russian hackers accessed the Democrats’ servers and leaked information that damaged Mrs Clinton’s campaign.    

Information Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said it was an issue for concern but indicated that the ministry had requested the Treasury for funds to address the issue.

“ We presented our case to Parliament and we are awaiting their decision. We have asked for consolidation of the ICT budget from all ministries to my docket,” he told Nation.

State House Director for digital communication Dennis Itumbi said government was concerned with the widespread use of third party systems: “We are setting up a Presidential Public Service Innovation Hub that will spot best ICT minds not only to nurture them but also offer technology solutions for government,” he said.

Former Information PS Bitange Ndemo, who is credited with improving the ICT environment during his tenure said there was need to have a law on how government officials communicate and store information.


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