Over the last decade, the Kenyan government has moved some of its services and procedures online, with the Simba cargo declaration system a memorable initiative. Taking previously-manual tasks online brings many benefits to both the government and citizens: speed, measurement, retrievability, convenience, reduced paper waste, etc.
Therefore, it’s frightening to know that our government’s Web security fence is so porous that Direxer, an Indonesian student, recently hacked over 100 government websites! What’s worse is that not only did he boast about his ‘achievement,’ but the Kenya Police website had been hacked in early January, and no urgent steps were taken to stop a recurrence.
To most of us with regular Internet access, we shrugged off these invasions with, ‘As long as it wasn’t my personal data, it’s cool” reaction (the Immigration Ministry’s site was one of the hacked sites that might contain your personal details).
Unfortunately, Kenyans, local e-commerce sites and Internet marketers should be afraid, very afraid. First, we have now earned a reputation as a top hackers’ dream destination. This means they will outdo each other for bragging rights in attempts to outdo Direxer. Two potential targets are Kenyans’ Facebook and Twitter accounts because statistics show that there are over 1 million Kenyans on the former and we occupy second position in Africa in using the latter.
Second, potential e-commerce customers will hesitate to transact online because of their legit fears that local sites aren’t secure enough to protect not only their credit card information, but other data such as email and physical addresses and cell phone numbers. This fear will lay to waste the whole purpose of promoting e-commerce in Kenya and drive customers to foreign-owned e-commerce sites where they will feel their data is secure, even though the October 2011 hacking of Sony’s Playstation site proves no site is impregnable.
Third, if local e-commerce sites’ owners have to spend more of their time worrying about security (and its costs) instead of optimising their sites to attract, motivate and keep customers, then Internet marketing in Kenya will mutate into Web security products instead of beneficial actions such as Internet marketing.
Fourth, if Direxer stole sensitive data such as names and cell phone numbers, there is a huge possibility that he will auction them to identity theft merchants who will then use this information to increase the cases of mobile phone fraud schemes such as those that inform you that you have ‘won’ money in a contest, for example.
Direxer’s antics have just made Internet marketing in Kenya a 100 times tougher proposition to sell.