Wednesday, September 08, 2010


If you have been recently keeping track of crime news reports in Kenya, you will have noted that there has been an increase in using mobile phones to apprehend criminals, for example Onyancha. Just like everyone else, criminals have woken up to the fact that we are all in a wireless grid that can work for and against them. Among all wireless technologies available the mobile phone has had a profound impact in all facets of our lives, especially the criminal underworld.

The mobile is now an integral component of the overall security component of individuals and organizations. The potential for its abuse as a tracking device makes it an information security issue. That is why locational tracking via mobiles, is a security concern we should all be aware of.

Before I outline the security implication of carrying that mobile, allow me to outline the coming locational services that might be on pipeline for implementation in the near future.

The mobile has become a platform on which various services are been bundled into. M-Pesa (money transfer), Skiza tunes/downloads and commodity price checking are among the most popular. Services based on the location of the mobile phone are the next frontier. These services are known as Location Based Services (LBS). Various applications have been developed in the context of LBS for example weather reporting. Once a mobile user enters a new area, the weather report of that area will be sent to your mobile. So if you are a truck driver you will be able to receive weather updates each time you cross a province or country.

Another very important location service is the Wireless Emergency Services (WES). When a mobile user calls the emergency 112 number, the location of the caller is determined by the service provider through the Automatic Location Identification (ALI). This location is then forwarded to the police or emergency responders. These locational services will really improve the quality of our lives especially in health and criminal emergencies like road accidents and carjacking.

It is evident that the benefits of location tracking can assist many Kenyans. Using ALI to track kidnappers, rapists and their ilk provides an immediate benefit to the society by swiftly tracking and removing criminals from our midst. There is however a flip side to this situation. Whereas ALI provides evident benefit it also poses a serious personal risk to mobile users. This facility, if abused, can be detrimental to innocent mobile users. In this age of interconnected networks (internet, GSM, CDMA etc) the security structures that are needed to protect this feature, by service providers, should be scrutinized in the interest of public good.

Various scenarios come to mind. Imagine a demented individual wants to stalk a spurned lover or a disgruntled employee wants to get back at the employer who laid him off. Accessing ALI to locate a potential victim would be possible from both the human and technological access points. Hacking into a service provider’s telecommunication system would allow a hacker to sell real-time locations of people to criminally intent people. By using social engineering techniques and outright threats, employees of service providers who maintain the ALI system, would be vulnerable to blackmail and physical harm.

There is definitely a greater good in using location mobile tracking to combat crime. We should however be cognizant to its potential abuse. As a consequence ethical and legislative frameworks should be developed to ensure that ALI is only used for the greater good of the Kenyan society.

No comments: