Thursday, February 21, 2008


I was watching the Nation TV morning show today (20 Feb 2008). Michael Joseph (Safaricom CEO) was one of the guests. Some of his remarks were quite interesting. When asked about Safaricom’s perennial congestion he reverted to his controversial argument that Kenyans have “peculiar” calling habits. Of course he used more polite terms this time round. He elaborated by stating that on Friday afternoons everyone in downtown Nairobi is calling each other within this same time window. This has resulted in Nairobi having the highest mobile telephony traffic per square mile in the whole world - on Friday afternoons! Now one wonders what drives us to verbal overdrive on Friday afternoons. There is a whiff of mischief here if you ask me.

Anyway that is fodder for another day. Of more interest was his proclamation that Safaricom will roll out the third generation (3G) network next month (March, 2008). He stated that 3G will encourage us to diversify our mobile diet to include data transmission instead of dwelling on our staple telephony activities of voice and short message sending.

Wireless technologies have finally come home to roost in Kenya. Right now we have multiple providers offering various wireless systems for example Telkom, Safaricom, Celtel, Popote, KDN and Flashcom etc. Technical jargon abounds, sample these: Wireless Data Networks (WDNs), Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), Personal Area Networks (PANs), Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs), Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWANs), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and many others. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with these wireless technologies and how they are categorized by their function, frequencies, bandwidth, communication protocols and level of sophistication. Blackberry, for example, integrates telephony, web browsing, email and messaging services with personal digital applications (PDA). It therefore has one foot on PAN and another on WLAN.

It’s a wireless bonanza in Nairobi or what I might call a mighty unwired mahewa fest. Who is celebrating? War drivers or sniffers are the ones in frenzy. War driving is the art of monitoring wireless traffic to determine, control and manipulate signal, bandwidth, leakage patterns and so forth. War drivers engage in mobile sniffing of wireless networks. War driving has evolved to include signage known as war chalking. This is where once a war driver has sniffed a vulnerable access point he/she reveals this insecurity on the most convenient visible surface. I saw this in London where chalk signs indicate the location of ‘free’ wireless networks. War drivers use self-contained laptops or PDAs in cars. They cruise around looking (sniffing) for ‘open’ access points. Popular sniffer tools include Air Crack, Air Snare, Kismet, Arpspoof, Air Magnet etc. Most of these tools are open source and freely available. These sniffer tools are able to scan and detect MAC addresses, Service Set IDs (SSID), names, signal strength, channel and other features. With time a WAP map of all vulnerable access points is constructed for all and sundry to use. I am sure this kind of map has already been developed in Nairobi. As it is war driving has become a popular weekend pastime in the mtaa for a number of savvy Nairobians. This wireless network security hole needs to be plugged before costly breaches occur. Knowledge and vigilance are formidable adversaries of war driving. Ensuring security requires some basic measures. One of them is ensuring that you don’t broadcast the SSID to the world. Another is using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) which is an encryption technique. Other measures abound.

The lessons to be learned here are that war driving is fast gaining currency in Nairobi. The tools that a war driver/sniffer might use to intercept wireless traffic are the same tools that are used to harden an organization’s wireless infrastructure. It is imperative that we promote awareness of this problem. It is only a matter of time before our sniffers emulate others by conducting an annual mahewa war drive in Nairobi. Sounds interesting though!!!