8/2/11-Kenya: Mobile Money Under Security Threat

Ngugi Njoroge

31 July 2011Nairobi — International security experts have raised the red flag over the rising vulnerability of Kenya’s mobile money transfer platform to international cyber criminals.

Consequently, the Kenyan Government has announced plans to put up security infrastructure to stem the emerging risks of cyber crime on the platform.

Speaking at an international Cyberspace security workshop in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, cyber security experts warned last week that hackers had started encroaching on the mobile money platform and it is therefore imperative for Kenya to build adequate capacity to shield itself against the emerging cyber security risks.

“Kenya has been the leader in terms of the online banking issues. Criminals are smart and they know where the money is and they look to where the technology is moving. As we try to move very quickly to be on top of this and make sure that we are taking precautions and legal measures, criminals are very sophisticated and are moving to these platform,” said Christopher Painter coordinator for Cyber issues in the US state Department.

Close to 25 million Kenyans have access to banking services through their mobile phones.

Painter noted that even though mobile money transfer was a new area pioneered in Kenya it had attracted the attention of the most countries of the world.

In turn he added, criminal activity targeted at the platform, had witnessed significant rises.

“It might develop fully in the next couple of years but its one one of the next waves that we need to prepare for. Its therefore very important for us to discuss,” he said.

Speaking at the event Kenya’s Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo disclosed that the Government will soon be seeking Ksh445 million, (US$5 million) to enhance cyberspace safety as part of the implementation of the findings of a recently conducted feasibility study on the security of the country’s ICT infrastructure.

“We already have a master plan in place for the Public Key Infrastructure. We are now looking for the money. The PKI is the whole driver of everything inside the cyber world. It creates a unique identifier for everybody trading here. This infrastructure is what saved the US from hackers, when they created this system,” he said.

Noting that the mobile money platform handles over Ksh7 billion (US$ 77.7 million) a day, Ndemo added, that mobile operators would soon be required to carry out regular quality assurance audits to safeguard their mobile money transfer systems against fraud.

He said there was need to train more security experts and IT support staff on emerging cyber crime issues in order to create capacity to effectively deal with the risks.

“Last time we trained eight people to man the data centres all of them were taken by the private sector simply because the salaries we have cannot compete. The CID, the Police, and the NSIS must now begin to recruit specialists in this area because they are the ones who do the investigations. We must begin to develop capacity there,” he said.

The workshop supported by the US government brought together local and regional experts from East and West Africa to deliberate on cyberspace security.

Many cyber crimes have been reported around the world mostly involving western African criminal gangs. Some have reached levels where the gangs push cronies into major banks in Europe and use them to swindle money.

East African Business Week (Kampala)

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