Tuesday 20 October 2015

SumVoices: A Perspective on Cyber Security in Kenya

Our previous installment of SumVoices featured Iraqi journalist and social media trainer Bahr Jasim. This week's contribution offers the insight of Chrispus Kamau, Bright Gameli and Henry Karanja of East African technical computer security collective AfricaHackon.
AfricaHackon, cybersecurity, Kenya, East Africa, Chrispus Kamau, Bright Gameli, Henry Karanja
Kenya has been advancing technologically at a high rate for a few years now. Technology is revolutionizing the way of life of the whole country. High speed internet access is now almost ubiquitous in major cities and towns. We can also not forget mobile money with Kenya usually referenced in case studies around the world due to its unprecedented success. We have banks tripping over themselves trying to digitize their services through online and mobile applications.

Cyber security, on the other hand, is trying to keep pace. As is usually the case, features and usability trump everything else. It’s all about who can bring to market the newest technology. Security comes as an afterthought, oft when it’s too late. Kenya, as a regional technology hub, should lead the way in a cultural shift that recognizes the importance of cyber security. That’s where AfricaHackon has come in and helped to drive the cyber security agenda. Founded two years ago, great strides have already been made.

It started with hosting the first annual AfricaHackon Conference in February of 2014. Moving away from the mundane conferences that are usually theoretical PowerPoint festivals, the conference was practical, hands-on and interactive. It received critical acclaim and its success was only bettered by the second held in July 2015. With participation from both enthusiasts and industry heavyweights, the conferences have helped bring cyber security to the forefront.

Building capacity in the country and region as a whole is an agenda that AfricaHackon has endeavored to tackle head on. The approach has and continues to be to target students in universities and colleges. Through free bootcamps in various Kenyan institutions, AfricaHackon is sparking interest in the field early enough in students’ academic lives. They are introduced to the field through interactive hands-on sessions with subject matter experts in their fields. Successful bootcamps have been held in four institutions with at least three more planned by the end of the year. AfricaHackon is also pioneering proper cyber security courses with two programmes already ongoing.

The concern for most people, governments and institutions when it comes to cyber security is financial loss and reputational damage. They are therefore taking a lot more interest in protecting themselves and their information. These concerns were also part of the reason that the Kenyan government decided to create the National Cyber Security Master Plan. The Master Plan aims to address comprehensively all the tenets of a proper cybersecurity framework right from the government to the individual. The plan incorporates elements of governance, people, operations, technology and management.

The Master Plan, once implemented, is bound to change the cyber security landscape in the country and provide much needed direction. AfricaHackon is at the forefront in pushing for its implementation and in the meantime is continuing to create awareness and build capacity.

AfricaHackon is looking forward to the implementation and actualization of the various elements of the plan. If there’s one area that most excites the group, it is the people element. Building the right capacity in terms of skill and awareness ultimately feeds into and builds all the other elements. We will have educated people making the right decisions in areas of leadership as well as have an educated populace. Skilled professionals in the field will advance the operational tenet of the plan and strengthen the technology aspect in the process.

Every once in a while you’ll hear news of what looks like poorly thought out policies, news that raises concerns in sensitive matters such as online privacy and freedom of expression. These only emphasize the need to have the Master Plan put in place. It’s therefore not a case of doom and gloom. With the right decision makers driving the cybersecurity field and groups such as AfricaHackon driving the agenda, the future holds promise.

Learn more about AfricaHackon at www.africahackon.com.

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