Hacking problem all sides need to tackle
Global Times | 2013-3-17 17:53:01
By Mark Kapchanga
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Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



The past weeks have witnessed China and the US engage in a serious spat over hacking allegations.

The US accuses Beijing's military of stealing sensitive security secrets and pilfering information from wealthy foreign firms.

A US-based Internet security company Mandiant has presented claims that the attacks originated from a PLA-owned building in Shanghai. The firm said the companies' sensitive materials such as contract negotiations, product assessment, pricing and acquisitions were all stolen.

China has vehemently denied these illicit deeds, and argued that it had been a hacking victim. The Asian nation said it was erroneous to accuse the government or the military of any offense.

In fact, China said two main military websites were recently attacked, including the Ministry of National Defense. According to the Internet Protocol addresses, China said it had been attacked more than 144,000 times in a month last year and that 62.9 percent of these attacks originated from US addresses.

It may be difficult to disentangle these issues. What seems to be indisputable, though, is that there are multiple hackers, both experienced and upcoming, in China and the US.

It is a complicated ring of crooks that seems not to be working for the government. They are youthful citizens who want to demonstrate how good they are at what they do.

To them, it's more about entertainment than a calculated move aimed at causing harm.

But some engage in these illegal acts for a living. They sell stolen data to the black market.

Given the level it has reached, it does not matter who is doing it. Something must be done, fast.

China should stand firm and fight against these ferocious hackers. If Beijing is truly committed to saving its image internationally, it should show the world what it is doing about these threats.

The US has already made some gestures on how to stop these threats. The White House has said it might employ military action in the event of further hacks. Other tools the US government is considering for use against individuals or countries that might hack Americans include visa restrictions and financial sanctions.

In all these engagements, Africa is the most vulnerable area. Its economy is still in shambles. But technology and massive foreign investments from the US, Europe and Asia have come to its rescue.

Indeed, technology started to influence the way Africa developed in the early 1990s.

By the beginning of the 21st century, a mobile revolution swept through the continent.

The telecommunications industry made the African continent the fast growing region in the world. Many technological solutions were developed to solve its mounting problems.

Today, the new technology has transformed Africa both economically and politically. In Ethiopia, for example, the launch of a commodities exchange five years ago provided real-time information to farmers by enabling them to track prices.

Perhaps the most memorable impact of technology would be the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Through social media, millions of people were mobilized to ouster leaders perceived to have failed from office.

But with the big boys fighting over hacking, these developments are likely to go further in Africa.

Last year, the continent was hit by multiple hacking cases. An Indonesian wizard allegedly attacked more than 100 websites in Kenya. Within a month, one of Africa's major mobile operators was invaded.

The attack appeared to have been executed through an SQL, a special-purpose programming language designed for managing data. This means the gaps in the code of a page enabled the attackers to execute their peculiar code, ultimately gaining unwarranted entry into it.

Some users put the same password on their e-mail and their online banking services. This puts their entire savings at risk.

For businesses, they stand to lose not only their funds, but also crucial and confidential data that perhaps may bring their operations to a halt.

At a time when China is heavily investing in Africa, such signals are damaging.

With many other continents competing with China for investment opportunities in Africa, its rivals are likely to use the hacking accusations to stain China's prospects.

But meanwhile, this could also be an opportunity for China and Africa to use the threat of hacking as an impetus to get their own cyber security in order.



The author is a journalist on African issues based in Nairobi, Kenya. mkapchanga@gmail.com


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