|Volume 18, Number 4||The CPSR Newsletter||Fall 2000|
|Hacking in Africa -- The Coming Threat||
by Russell Southwood
Following the launch of the new CPSR Africa Chapter, [ http://www.cpsr.org/chapters/africa/ ] here's a excerpt from the email newsletter Balancing Act Africa News Update. You can find more at [ http://www.balancingact-africa.com/ ] -Ed.
The presence of hackers in North America and Europe is so well known that they have become outlaw figures in film and fiction. Hackers "from the dark side" are a mixture of considerable technical ingenuity and an anarchic capacity for destroying secure systems. South African IT security expert Justin Sandford argues with considerable conviction that hackers are a product of cheap internet access. They are usually young teenage boys who have plenty of (relatively inexpensive) time to hone their hacking skills. For this reason they are largely found in South Africa. However this insight tends to be breed a laxity about security that will trip up otherwise IT-sophisticated corporates. The young hacker will be a coming threat to the African internet in the next five years.
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-- Russell Southwood
Computer hackers have been like the fairy tale characters of the past ever since the American household has been aware of the internet - they play on one's fears of the unknown, roaming free on the digital streets and deriving pleasure from using their superior knowledge to infiltrate one's personal security.
The computer hacker has become a much more prevalent presence on the internet as access to the internet for the public has improved. Computer hackers tend to be teenage boys and their presence grows when there is relatively cheap access to the phone system. Because where access to the phone system is cheap and effective, it is much more common for the Internet to be present in the home. If there is a lack of existing, affordable infrastructure, members of the public cannot easily get the Internet in their homes.
In America, where local phone calls are free and Internet access is cheap, the Internet has been accessible to the public for a much longer time than for the rest of the world - hence, there is much more of an underground presence. America is essentially the root of the global hacker community we have today. Up until fairly recently, the Internet was not accessible to anyone in Africa, until South Africa's first dial-up Internet service provider began operations several years ago.
Due to South Africa having a well developed, and fairly affordable phone system, internet access is a viable option to those who have a telephone installed to their homes and a PC. Therefore in a relatively short time South Africa developed its own underground hacker personalities, and hacker organisations and both started to grow in number.
South African Internet service providers have developed to an internationally comparable level, and all levels of Internet access from large corporate to home Internet access is to be found throughout the country. Recently some of these providers have begun expansion up to Namibia and Zimbabwe and are starting to offer comparable Internet access services to those found in South Africa. However, as stated earlier, Internet access to the home user is only viable where there is already an effective telephone infrastructure available to the public, and only when this is affordable to a large amount of people within an area does one start to see the formation of hackers and hacking groups. As the majority of the African countries have not yet developed an affordable phone system, the likely propblem of hackers in those is likely to be much less acute.
Thus, the only real presence of any form of digital underground is made up mainly of South Africans, with Namibia and Zimbabwe playing a very minor role. One must bear in mind however, that hacking has no borders - a hacker in Russia can just as easily hack into a South African system as a local system in his own country. South Africa is a target of international hacker groups, mainly American, but this does not necessarily make up the majority of the hacks that occur.
The South African underground is very much an active, growing and world comparable entity. South African hackers are typical of hackers found around the world, but they have a distinct tendency to remain on home ground and not to expand their exploits overseas - they are also very often "patriots", and do not take lightly international hackers stepping on their "territory".
But what threat do hackers and hacking in Africa pose? Hackers in Africa are the same as hackers in America, Russia, Europe, or anywhere in the world. They are all a global threat, given the boundryless nature of the Internet - but South African hackers have a home ground advantage. With a knowledge of the systems, companies and technologies which are most commonly found within South Africa, a hacker is far better armed to perform an attack.
South African systems are very much at risk because they do not the security consciousness and better developed security systems found in America where the hacker threat has been present much longer.
An excellent example of this is the aKt0r saga, where a young South African, aged 19 at the time, from Pietersburg going by the handle "aKt0r" went on a hacking rampage, defacing numerous high profile South African websites, such as the JSE, CompuTicket, The Stormers Rugby Team, and more, caused a large stir amongst the corporates involved and the media. Due to there being no specific laws related to hacking in South Africa, although aKt0r was identified and in fact confessed and revealed himself on national television, he was never prosecuted.
As more and more African businesses and individuals advance in internet terms to the same level found in the rest of the world and start to place more and more of sensitive data (and thus reliance) on the Internet, security is becoming more and more important. Africa is only now waking up to the Internet revolution but is not aware of the implications and threats involved with getting online.
There are very few highly skilled and experienced security specialists in South Africa who are in touch with and monitor the local underground and can expertly develop and implement security systems of a world wide standard, but as the development of the Internet progresses in Africa, so does the presence of computer hackers, and also an understanding by business and individuals of the risks and threats present, and how to deal with them.
Justin Stanford is an IT Security/Internet Consultant based in South Africa
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