“Security starts with you!”
That was the closing line of a campaign led by the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014. The publicity drive that had been crafted by the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit, was launched at the height of unprecedented terror-attacks across the country. While the campaign may have had a lot to offer by way of enlightening the public on the measures the government was taking in combating insecurity, that phrase ended up being the only take-away for many. The butt of many a stand-up joke and much more controversy, the statement drew alot of flak for His Excellency.
For a long time, safety and security were seen as the prerogative of the disciplined forces and therefore many could not understand how ordinary men and women had a role to play in ensuring their own welfare. This especially on the back of what seemed as a relentless terror campaign, that had seen tens of people lose their lives, hundreds injured and millions fearful as a result of a series of attacks.
During a media training organised by Tax Justice Network Africa a month ago, Mr. Kenyatta’s words rang true: security does start with you. Not the gun-totting, Kung-fu fighting, knife-wielding kind; but the online type. Participants of the training were drawn from media-houses across Africa and constituted of senior editors and correspondents. The main topic of discussion was the investigation of illicit financial flows and corruption. As one participant pointed out in an article following the training, ‘the media does have a role to play in the fight against graft’. However a large part of this role is investigating scandals and unmasking the individuals behind them, and the treatment of the information or news pieces thereafter.
Facilitators of the training were drawn from the media fraternity, Civil Society and government agencies, with most discussions looping back to the issue of investigations in the age of Web 2.0 and social media. There was a unanimous agreement that online security is a top priority in any investigation. In the age of cyber-terrorism one cannot leave anything to chance. While we cannot all be I.T experts, there are simple things that one can do to ensure that the content of their online accounts and devices are secure.
Basic things first- passwords. Tough lessons have been learnt from having easy passwords. Gone are the days when a birth- date, anniversaries, postal addresses or national identity numbers could be used as email or computer pass-codes. Get more creative, think outside the box and use a rich mix of letters (and cases), symbols and numbers to come up with the passwords. Do not share your passwords with anyone- the fewer the number of people who know them, the less likely they are to get into the wrong hands. In any case, tech companies have nowadays come up with a number of ways of securing devices and data such as biometric identification systems (think fingerprint, iris and face recognition). These systems are now built into gadgets such as mobiles phones and can be used for free.
Another way hackers try and get access into laptops and the files therein is through the camera. It’s such a small thing and seems very harmless, right? As long as it’s not in use it’s off, no? Wrong! Hackers have found ways to use that camera to observe and record activities. It is worse for those who use eyeglasses as these reflect what is on the screen. When not in use always have the camera covered, preferably with something opaque or double-layered.
Another safety hack is locking the account on the laptop or phone every time they are not in use for an extended period of time such as lunch or a device-free meeting.
So what does a communications personnel know about cyber-security? Not much, unfortunately, but as one who handles the aftermath of an information-leak or hacking incident, experience has shown that prevention is better than curative care. In the age of a non-forgetting Internet, it is better to have information at one point than out there in the Unknown.
This post was drafted by Michelle Mbuthia, TJNA’s Assistant Communications Officer.