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Alarm over data safety as cyber threats spike

By Macharia Kamau | February 10th 2021

Kenyans faced an increasingly hostile online working environment as the number of cyber threats shot up last year, new official data shows.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), cybercriminals took advantage of more people working from home to launch attacks, with many of using less sophisticated security systems.

The number of cyber threats detected in the quarter to December 2020, the regulator said yesterday, stood at 56 million, a 60 per cent increase from 35 million threats reported in the quarter to September.

CA said cyber threats surged as organisations embraced remote working, exposing their data to risks such as the use of personal devices to access official networks.

“While cyber threats are not new, and pose great risks to society, the economy, and to our children, the Covid-19 pandemic has simply exacerbated the magnitude of this challenge,” said acting CA Director General Mercy Wanjau.

“Throughout this Covid-19 crisis, cybercriminals have unleashed all manner of attacks, including fraud, phishing, extortion and increased ransomware that have compromised critical ICT systems.”

Wanjau spoke in Nairobi during an event to mark the Safer Internet Day, where the telecommunications industry regulator together with other players sensitised the public on safe practices, especially for children.

At 56 million, the number of cyber threats is also substantially higher compared to 13.9 million cases detected in the quarter to June.

Wanjau noted that a majority of the threats were malware attacks at 46 million followed by web application attacks at 7.8 million, while there were 2.2 million threats of distributed denial of service (DDos).

“In partnership with DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations) and other enforcement agencies, we have had some success… so far, we have a number of convictions. we will take it to the rightful end,” she said.

CA in partnership with local telecom service providers launched a portal aimed at creating a safer online environment for children.

The move is in addition to the Child Online Protection (COP) initiative rolled out five years ago.

“Abuse and exploitation of children are unacceptable and should generally not be protected even by free speech principles,” said Administrative Secretary in the ICT Ministry Maureen Mbaka.

"In the Internet world, further protections are also needed to shield children from predators who may contact them through deceptive enticements in online forums."

She added that with more institutions as well as processes going online, cyber threats are likely to spike. 

“Expectedly, as ICTs have become more pervasive and widely integrated with various sectors of the economy, the menace of cybercrime has continued to rise at a corresponding scale," she said.

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