If you thought it is only in the United States where the government has tools to hack into most smartphones, computers and other internet gadgets as recently revealed in a WikiLeaks dossier, you better think again because Kenyan authorities claim to have the ability to do a similar job.
While looking for technology experts to discuss how governments hack into their citizens’ gadgets, the Sunday Nation met one man who, at face value, is just another IT consultant running a company in Nairobi.
But when we finally sat down for an interview, he confessed that besides his private business, he also worked with a government agency in monitoring electronic gadgets of targeted individuals. He however added that the motive is to “protect citizens”.
Government-hired technicians, he said, have discovered how to hack into phones and read WhatsApp messages.
He revealed that it is not the messaging applications that are necessarily vulnerable; it is the operating systems that run the phones.
The man’s revelations came as a storm brewed worldwide after WikiLeaks — an anti-secrecy organisation that has released a series of dossiers on operations of the US government — revealed the tools that America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) uses to hack into citizens’ gadgets.
The exposé was said to be from documents taken away from the CIA, detailing its operations between 2013 and 2016.
The documents claimed that CIA had tools to secretly activate microphones on smartphones and smart TVs.
A category of Samsung smart TVs were revealed as having been compromised through malware that is transmitted via USB connection.
Samsung released a statement saying it was looking into the matter.
HOW SPYING WORKS
Our interviews with businessmen who sell smart TVs in Nairobi revealed that Kenyan buyers are not yet wary of a bug that CIA reportedly uses, called Weeping Angel.
“After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode. In this mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert CIA server,” said the WikiLeaks report.
According to Mr Mohammed Abdi, who has been selling smart TVs for long, none of his customers has ever expressed reservations about the smart TVs.
Smart TVs work with an internet connection and rely mainly on Web streaming services.
Besides TVs, phones and computers were said to be a prime target.
Google, which owns the Android operating system that powers billions of phones globally, did not immediately respond to the hacking reports.
But Apple and Microsoft equally announced that they were looking into the claims.
Some Kenyans interviewed online by the Sunday Nation said they received the CIA hacking revelations with shock.
“That is intrusion to privacy and confidentiality of personal information,” said Victor Makana, 29, a Kisii resident.
Preston Buluma, 26, a businessman in Nairobi, wondered which between privacy and national security is more important.
Mr Joseph Chweya, 29, a high school teacher in Thika, said he was now more cautious.
“Cyber criminals can steal such information and use it for criminal activities,” said Mr Chweya.
So, how does it happen? Mr Joseph Maina, the lead trainer at Emobilis Institute located in Nairobi’s Westlands, said the Android operating system has been upgraded several times recently to fix vulnerability but hackers often find a way around them.