Wednesday, July 23, 2008

OUR CHILDREN ARE HOME ALONE - UNSUPERVISED AS THEY EXPLORE THE DIGITAL JUNGLE

By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 23rd July 2008)

Some time back parents were content to leave their kids in the hands of domestic workers. They would be fed, educated and entertained with dubious songs and games initiated by our child minders. A few years later the television (with even more dubious content) substituted one key activity, entertainment. No longer would our domestic workers have the entertainment monopoly.

Today we are witnessing a move away from the television to the internet, especially in urban centres. Parents are increasingly leaving their children with the internet as a source of education and entertainment. This is a security issue.

One might argue that internet penetration, in Kenya, is negligible and subsequently the risk to our children is minimal. This is a false assumption. According to the Internet World Stats, Kenya is currently among the top ten countries in Africa in internet usage.

Latest data on the number of internet users in our country indicates that approximately 3,000,000 Kenyans use the internet frequently (as at March, 2008). Most of these users are the youth. Proof of this can be found in the ubiquitous cyber cafes where a vast majority of internet users are aged below 23 years. It is not uncommon to even find ten year olds ‘surfing’ in these cybers.

In a few decades they will become parents and will invariably have internet access at home. Their children will be exposed to technology from a very early age. Currently, a significant proportion of the 30-40 year old middle class segment in Nairobi has internet access at home. Their children are internet-savvy and are able to exchange ring-tones, download movies and play online games with alacrity. They are sometimes home alone, unsupervised and unmonitored as they explore the digital jungle.

This digital jungle is as equally dangerous to unsuspecting youngsters as the more familiar forests in Kenya. This is because parents considerably underestimate the risks their children are experiencing online. These risks range from exposure to pornographic and adult material and giving out of personal information. Children are also exposed to receiving unwanted sexual or nasty comments, meeting unsavoury online characters and unwittingly exposing their home computers to hackers.

Our youngsters have impressionable minds and just as you would restrict television content, one should also restrict which websites your children access. It is however important to appreciate that the internet is a treasure trove for our children. They use it for various activities for example, as a research library for their homework, playing games that develop cognitive skills and for communication through e-mail and chat rooms. It is therefore not reasonable to fully restrict access to the internet. Our children’s future is intertwined with ICT and availing them the opportunity to access this technology early equips them with a long-term competitive edge.

As a parent you are obliged to securing the internet for your children. There are a few measures, social and technical, that you have at your disposal. The first is the need to raise awareness among the children and your fellow parents on the risks that can be encountered online. These discussions should respect children’s online privacy and should be aimed at raising awareness and educating all concerned.

You have a number of technical options available to you as a parent. One of them is requesting your Internet Service Provider to filter adult content to your home computer(s). A more specific measure would be setting up permissions in your browser (a browser is a computer application program that is used to view and navigate the World Wide Web and other internet resources. Popular browsers are for example Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox). Internet Explorer has a feature called Content Advisor that can assist parents control the type of content a home computer can gain access to in the internet.

With Content Advisor you can view and adjust rating settings to reflect what you think is permissible content in each of these four areas: language, nudity, sex and violence. You can adjust a slider to specify what users are allowed to see for example, in language, Level 0 ensures access is allowed for web sites with no profanity. Level 4, on the other hand, means that the internet user can access sites that contain extreme hate speech or crude language.

Apart from Ratings you can also specify which web sites are always viewable or never viewable, regardless of how they are rated. This means that you can prohibit unpleasant websites and prevent your children from getting exposed to offensive material.

Ensuring that your children safely navigate through the digital jungle is a security concern and a fundamental responsibility of every techno-savvy parent.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ONLINE SHOPPING – ARE WE AWARE OF THE PITFALLS THAT AWAIT US?

By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 16th July 2008)

Shopping is supposed to be a pleasant experience. Hardcore shoppers maintain that it is therapeutic and contributes to their emotional and physical well-being. This is debatable.

There is however no denying that the thought of going to buy something you have been craving for (or need), has a thrill to it. This also includes the mundane household shopping.

Research claims that we get a ‘high’ when we see new and thrilling products. How many times have you walked through Nakumatt’s floors admiring items that you cannot afford?

Millions of shillings have been invested by our supermarket chains to enhance our ‘highs’ and thereby ensure we spend more time on the shop floor. The dynamics of physical shopping means that it will be with us for a long time to come.

Our shopping experience is, however, primed to be digitized when our local ICT infrastructure finally attains decent penetration in 2009. We will discover convenient shopping. Instead of pushing, shoving and waiting in supermarket queues at the end of an office day, we shall realize that the online Uchumi or Nakumatt can serve us faster and minus the sweaty stress.

It will be easier to tick off the items we need from the comfort of our offices and have them delivered home. We shall also be able to compare prices with comparative ease. How much is my favourite bar of soap in Uchumi, Nakumatt or Tuskys? It’s just a click away.

We already have accomplished Kenyan virtual online stores. Mama Mike’s is a famous and reputable online shop that caters for Kenyans and Ugandans who are located abroad. It allows them to purchase gifts, vouchers, and services for their family and friends based at home. This proves that online shopping will thrive once the infrastructure is in place.

Although shopping by computer (or mobile phone) will become a habit, it will unfortunately be particularly unsafe for the unwary Kenyan shopper. Avoiding the numerous online shopping minefields will require considerable technological dexterity.

To ensure we can shop unscathed, we need to adopt several measures. The first one is shopping from online stores that you know or are recommended by a friend.

The first time shopping experience in a new shop is usually filled with apprehension. Various doubts swamp your mind, namely on the quality of the products and pricing. In a virtual shop the products are not tangible. So apart from not been able to ascertain whether what you are buying is of dubious quality, you are also not sure whether the goods will be sent to you. So buy from sites that you know.

Another fundamental of online shopping is to be extra vigilant when you give out your credit card information. It is sometimes tempting to go for that bargain from an unknown web site. Apart from making sure it is a trustworthy site, you should ensure that the site and payment process are certified by a known web authority for example the BBB (Better Business Bureau). There is need for a Kenyan version of this organization that will act as a mutually trusted entity between online shoppers and businesses. Its main function would be to act as a stamp of approval for Kenyan online shops. Virtual stores that you can safely transact with.

The prudent online shopper also needs to watch out for phishing. This scam involves the sending of an email that falsely claims to be from an established legitimate company. The objective is to scam the recipient into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. You could for instance receive a “marketing” email from a well known “brick and mortar” supermarket that invites you to update your personal information in your discount card. The web site you are directed to looks like the legitimate one but is actually bogus. If, for instance, the bogus email directed you to Uchumi, and your address bar reads www.uchuami.biz/uchumi, you can be sure that you are in the wrong website. So it makes sense to counter check that address bar.

On a whole good old fashioned sensible buying will save you considerable heart-ache. It is also advisable to keep both anti-virus and anti-spyware current on you computer. Back-up your data regularly and if possible use a dedicated debit/credit card, with a modest balance, for online shopping.

Monday, July 14, 2008

THE ICT STABLE DOOR IS DANGEROUSLY AJAR

By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 9th July 2008)

It is an acknowledged fact that Kenya has a propensity for locking the stable well after the horse has bolted. Prior planning and preparation has never been our bane. This scenario can be witnessed in our ICT sector.

ICT is a burgeoning sector that has the capacity of propelling our economy to greater heights. Indicators testify to its potential. Safaricom, an ICT firm, has become the most profitable company in East Africa.

The government has also appreciated the strategic national value of ICT. Various initiatives have been introduced, for example the E-Government Strategy. Universal access to broadband is been promoted by the government sponsored National Optic Fibre Project. All these initiatives are a prelude to the coming of The East African Marine System (TEAMS). This is a submarine cable that will link Mombasa with the UAE and by extension, with the rest of the world. Kenya is clearly in the dawn of a technological revolution.

The existence of this infrastructure will invariably herald a new chapter for our beleaguered our economy. E-Commerce will open up new opportunities to small and large firms alike. We shall witness a fundamental transformation in the way local firms use ICT. Currently businesses are supported by ICT. Kenyan companies will adopt models where ICT will become integral and inseparable from the business and they will subsequently accrue competitive advantages.

It will become possible for consumers to order groceries from Uchumi or Nakumatt online and have them delivered to your doorstep. Long suffering Nairobians will be able to plan departures from their offices or homes by monitoring traffic jams in the city using live footage from internet enabled CCTVs. Our farmers will be able to access global buyers and markets through Digital villages.

Right now these benefits are shining like lighthouses in certain areas of our economy. The runaway success of MPesa was unexpected. National examination results can now be accessed via the internet and mobile phone. E-government has had an impact on the efficiency of central government. There are many more areas where the darkness of corporate and government bureaucracy have been vanquished by the beacon of technology.

These gains are, however, been enjoyed by a minority of Kenyans. This will change when the TEAMS cable facilitates greater access to Kenyans. This enhanced access will precipitate an E-commerce boom and enable us build a knowledge economy. This however hinges on whether we can prevent the horse from bolting before we organise the stable and secure the doors.

Putts Law states that technology is dominated by two types of people - those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand. We are obviously managing something we do not fully understand. This is because we are busy building the technological infrastructure without paying attention to the E-security measures that will determine the viability and future of this technology in Kenya.

E-security has yet to be embedded into our mainstream legislative and policy frameworks. E-security refers to the technical, policy, managerial and legislative safeguards applied to systems and data to protect organisational and personal privacy. These basic safeguards, that should secure the proposed virtual Kenyan economy, are absent. Kenyans are currently vulnerable to various online threats for example fraud, access penetration, data and password theft and others.

The valuable financial tokens that underlie e-commerce - credit card numbers and bank account information - have to be secured against fraudsters who use various methods like internet sniffing to obtain these details. With increased access, unscrupulous merchants will emerge with the sole motive of defrauding unsuspecting Kenyans for a quick profit. E-security therefore underpins our future virtual economy.

We cannot afford to ignore this danger. We have only one chance to guarantee confidence and trust in our local E-commerce environment. That means we must draft and publish a Data Protection Act that regulates the processing of individual data. We must also review and update the 2006 ICT policy that is obviously outdated. Kenya must divorce ICT from media and publish a comprehensive ICT Bill that fully outlines an electronic security framework.

Securing our technological infrastructure has to be in tandem with its development. Our failure in fully appreciating this concept will result in a still-born electronic economy and will dilute the considerable investment Kenya has made to ICT.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Kenyan ICT Bigwigs (Corporate) - Part 5

Robert Kariuki Mugo has joined Safaricom as the Chief Information Officer in June 2008 from Flashcom Limited where he served as the Chief Executive Officer.

He started his career with Africa Online Kenya Ltd where he rose through the ranks to become the Corporate Head of Technical Operations.

Mr. Mugo later joined UUNET Kenya Ltd in the year 2001 where he worked as a Technical Director and General Manager.

Kenya-Byte wishes him continued success.