At the beginning of the month, the Kenyan Police located 77 Chinese nationals operating a cyber crime network and a command center in the country’s capital, Nairobi. According to police reports, the equipment recovered from the incident are sophisticated, high-end telecommunication gadgets. The equipment can infiltrate bank accounts, ATM machines, and Kenya’s Mesa system. Mpesa is a mobile money transfer system that millions of Kenyans use on a daily basis to transfer billions of funds. In addition, another bunch of the Chinese operated an illegal radio station in the country. Similarly, police recovered microchips for ATM cards in the house. Interestingly, this massive discovery occurred accidently when the police visited the posh estate to investigate a fire incident in which one of the Chinese died. Considering the current speculations on the motives of the Chinese and the capabilities of their equipment, there is a high possibility they could ruin the country’s telecommunication systems and banking industry thus affecting millions of people.
In the recent past, the United States has accused China of waging cyber attacks on some American organizations. In particular, some experts have claimed that the Chinese government routinely hires a “vast army of hackers” to undertake different cyber related crimes. However, Beijing always rejects such accusations by stating its commitment to fight cyber crimes and espionage. In October, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported that China is the leading country that seeks to pilfer secrets from American based companies. Therefore, the Kenyan discovery raises eyebrows concerning the role of the Chinese government in the smuggling of high-end telecommunications equipment to Kenya as well as the establishment of a mysterious command center and illegal radio station in the country. Even though the Kenyan authorities referred to the discovery as a breakthrough in cyber crime, the incident highlights lapses in Kenya’s security as well as the potentially adverse effects of technology in developing countries.
With respect to the microchips discovered during the raid, it is possible that the suspects and their employers were targeting to hack into bank accounts as well as the Mpesa system to rob Kenyan citizens of their hard-earned cash. Nonetheless, the technology was high-end thus increasing the possibility of these people hacking systems in the neighboring countries: South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda among others. Cyber crime involves setting up copycat websites to confuse online users so that they can send money to bank accounts of criminals. In addition, it involves identity theft—acquiring people’s personal information then using it to access bank accounts and other important things. A few months ago, commercial banks in Kenya replaced the archaic and easily hacked ATM cards with ATM cards that use chip and pin technology. Therefore, the discovery of the microchips in the raided house raises two pertinent questions. Were the Chinese nationals targeting to hack the newly introduced chip and pin enabled ATM cards? Secondly, were the old cards targeted and infiltrated but the authorities have not yet realized? From a personal perspective, Kenyan commercial banks as well as banks in the neighboring countries should review the security of the new ATM cards. There is a possibility that the high-end technology recovered from the Chinese could still penetrate the security measures embedded in the new ATM cards.
By operating an illegal radio in the country, the Chinese nationals broke Kenya’s communications law. The suspects needed to obtain a legal permit and acquire frequencies from the communications authority before they operate the private radio broadcasting services. The incident comes at the back of a Chinese company “Star times” hacking the frequencies of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to broadcast live matches during the last world cup tournament. Such practices can cause confusion in the country’s telecommunication system and ground all activities based on telecommunications. Operating an illegal radio station and hacking
The systems of the government’s broadcaster demonstrate the degree to which the Chinese technology dwarfs technology in many African countries. These countries should take proper measures to prevent future technology-related attacks on the telecommunication systems.
The potential effects of the illegal telecommunication equipment found in Kenya are adverse thus the Chinese government should cooperate fully with the Kenyan investigators to unravel the intention of its citizens. For the Beijing based government to prove to the world that it is committed to crackdown on cyber crime perpetrated by its nationals, the Chinese government must prove that it played no role in the incident. Moreover, the Chinese government should ensure that the law takes its cause and all suspects prosecuted accordingly.
Despite the many bilateral agreements the Chinese government has signed with many African countries, there is a need to ensure that these countries remain wary of the potential threats. For example, many Chinese nationals have taken advantage of these relations to move into different countries. With the many opportunities existing in countries like Kenya and the security lapses, unscrupulous Chinese can cause adverse harm using their sophisticated technology. Countries such as Kenya should reconsider their progress in crimes perpetrated through technological devices. Otherwise, these countries are likely to suffer from massive cyber crime incidents, interruption of communication as well as attacks on highly sensitive infrastructure such as power plants.