US warns Kenya to secure mobile money transfers


NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 25 – The US is warning Kenya to enhance its security mechanisms particularly in the mobile phone money transfer technologies to outsmart cyber crime wizards.

International security experts from the US, including the department of Homeland Security have warned that unless Kenya puts in place proper security measures, it will soon become a target of cyber criminals now targeting mobile phone technologies like money transfers.

Christopher Painter who formerly worked as a senior advisor to the US President on cyber security acknowledged Kenya’s spearheading position in mobile money transfer systems, which is envied by countries abroad.

“We cannot afford to ignore that fact; Kenya is leading in the mobile phone money transfer technology. And the advice we are giving is for Kenya to enhance security in that sector because it is a soft target for cyber criminals,” said Mr Painter who spent two years developing President Barack Obama’s Cyberspace Policy Review.

“Criminals are no longer targeting computer users, they are looking at ways of tapping opportunities available in smart phone users and they are going for money. This mobile phone money transfer system is one of them and it needs proper security,” Mr Painter told reporters at a scheduled briefing at the start of the East African Workshop on Cyberspace Security taking place in Nairobi.

He said apart from offering advice to Kenya on how to tighten security measures for mobile phone users, experts from the US are in Kenya to learn more about the innovation of using mobile phones to carry out transactions in their countries.

“The technology is sophisticated and having started here [in Kenya], we are eager to learn about it,” he added.

He said there was need for security to be enhanced so as “to be ahead of computer hackers who may invent ways of withdrawing people’s money from mobile phones.”

Mr Painter is credited with leading the most high profile and significant cyber crime prosecutions in Los Angeles, including the prosecution of notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick.

Mobile phone operator Safaricom was the first to introduce M-PESA, which has increasingly become popular in enabling users to send and receive money using their mobile phones.

Other operators such as Airtel, Orange and yu have also introduced similar services under the brand names Airtel Money, Orange Money and yuCash respectively.

“This is an exciting technological innovation which must be protected,” Mr Painter who has previously served as Deputy Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)’s Cyber Division warned.

Other cyber crime international experts attending the workshop include Marie-Flore Kouame and Thomas Dukes—both of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section [CCIPS], Patrick Traynor who is an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, Robin Taylor a Resident Legal Advisor for the US Department of Justice in the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development among other top experts.

Information Minister Samuel Phogisio said Kenya will work closely with the US to improve its technologies so as to ensure Kenyans continue to enjoy services offered by local mobile phone companies in various transactions.

“We are sharing with US because we are faced with a lot similar security challenges. We will definitely come up with ways of solving these problems with the help of the US,” the Minister said.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry Bitange Ndemo said the government was looking at ways of building a strong capacity for the police to enable them utilize opportunities available in the ICT sector in managing cyber crime in the country.

“Once we do this, Kenya will be far much ahead in terms of managing cyber crime which is posing serious security threats to Kenyans, particularly those transacting through smart phones,” he added.

“It is a very broad aspect but we are working on it. We have had various attacks in the past, there was the attack on the police and one on the treasury,” he said.

This will also help address challenges posed by terrorist groups and those targeting internet communications.


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