Monthly Archives: June 2017

Stolen National ID Data ~ Questioning The New Vision’s Agenda

The headline on the front page of the Sunday Vision screamed, PANIC AS NATIONAL ID DATA IS STOLEN. I dropped all I was doing to quickly get myself a copy of the news paper. Being one of those people that have continuously cautioned our government over its handling of electronic data, I was only too eager to see what had been done wrong this time round.

vision_headline

The screaming Sunday Vision Headline

The title of the article gives one the impression that the folks at the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) were caught napping on duty.

In the article, a one Norbert Kamwebaze was allegedly paid twice for work he did for Roko Construction with the second payment being dished out to an imposter who presented an ID card to Roko that had all his details save for a difference in the face.

The article starts off with a clear indication of the agenda the authors had; “Panic has gripped members of the public after it emerged that confidential data that Ugandans submitted to NIRA could have landed in wrong hands….” Using a very basic example, we have had forgery of permits for a long time in this country where someone lifts all the information of a legitimate permit and only changes the face to reflect his. Why has there never been any doubt cast on Face Technologies over our data? I was irked by the quick conclusion being insinuated in the article yet the details of the story indicate that suspicion should first be cast elsewhere.

Let us look at the issues raised so far and what they mean;

  • Mr. Kamwebaze was contracted by Roko construction to do a job for UGX 51 Million Shillings

  • Upon completion of the job, he was paid in full but not before producing proof of his identity by presenting a National ID which was duly photocopied.

  • Mr. Kamwebaze proceeded to bank the cheque on his account in Barclays bank and it was cleared.

  • A few days later, another person bearing a similar ID appeared at Roko for payment and was issued a cheque for payment.

This is where the story gets an interesting twist. Roko as a company has decent accounting systems in place with well set processes and procedures. I have done work for them before and know that the point persons one deals with when it comes to finances are limited and they usually know even off head who has been paid. The issuance of cheques follows some fairly lengthy procedures and this makes me wonder how a second cheque could have been issued without internal connivance. Is it possible that by coincidence all those who handled the first payment issued were never available when the impostor turned up?

  • The double payment was discovered by the Roko top management.

This is already a pointer that the lower level staff have some serious questions to answer.

  • The impostor opened up an account with the same bank, Barclays using the same bio data as Mr. Kamwesigye, went ahead to ensure the account had the same bank balance as that of the legitimate Kamwesigye and two days later, deposited the cheque of 51 Million. Upon maturity, he withdrew all the money.

This raises some interesting questions. They are:

  1. Could it be that the banking software used by Barclays has no ability to detect duplicates? How could two accounts with similar bio data exist yet having different photographs? Shouldn’t a flag have been raised internally at least first with the Systems Security team?

  2. How did the impostor get to know the details on the legitimate Kamwesigye’s account including bank balance? Was he working with an insider in Barclays? Could there have been collusion between Mr Kamwesigye and this alleged impostor?

Back to the National ID, no where in the article does it indicate the trail to NIRA. There is a presumption that the NIRA database could have been hacked to get this information but this does not appear to hold much water considering that there are still many other ways one would have accessed this ID information. Based on my assessment, these are the first areas of suspicion before casting NIRA in bad light:

  • The impostor could have worked with staff at Roko who availed him the ID information since they already had a photocopy and considering that he picked his money after the real claimant had already got his.

  • The real Mr. Kamwebaze could have connived with the impostor and come up with the new ID that the impostor used.

  • The impostor could have tracked Mr. Kamwebaze and been able to get access to his National ID without his knowledge. Thereafter, he hatched out his plan.

At this point, unless further information is availed showing complicity by NIRA, I am inclined to believe that this was more of social engineering than hacking into the National ID Database.

It is on this note that I would like to register my disappointment with the New Vision for falling prey to the sensationalist headline approach typical of the reckless Ugandan tabloids.

One positive though the article brings out is the need for our public institutions to guard against data pilferage. Remember, the weakest link in any IT systems is the human being. Employ professionals who know what they are doing and are willing to stand by a pre-set code of ethics. We shall minimise the likely occurrence of such.

Eid Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

James Wire is a Technology and Small Business Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Advertisements

Hon. Anite, you’re a Minister. Get out of your Slumber

Abraham Lincoln once said, “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I could hardly believe my ears and eyes when I read and heard allegations that the State Minister for Investment and Privatisation, a one Hon. Evelyn Anite had blurted out statements in line with the fact that all Ugandans shall be required to have a simcard of the rabied Uganda Telecom.

Before I start on Uganda Telecom, I would like to register my disappointment in the level of intellectual ability depicted by some of the ministers in our government. I now realise why a minimum education requirement was put in place for anyone who wants to be a member of the Parliament. However, today, I propose that the education requirements for Ministers be elevated even much higher than a Senior 6 certificate.

This is not the first time I have been uneasy about the kind of chit chat this Hon. Anite turns into public speeches. Matters are even made worse when one learns that she holds a sensitive docket whose aim is to promote investment in this country.

Why should Ugandans be forced or required to have UTL Sim Cards? In her wisdom, she calls upon our nationalism as a way of reviving the ailing entity. Now here are some questions for her in this regard:

  • Where was Nationalism when the top four managers were earning a combined salary of US$ 95,500 (UGX 343 Million) monthly?

  • Where was Nationalism when a one Emmanuel Kasule was paid UGX 50 Million before he even begun working for UTL?

  • Where was Nationalism when the Uganda Police and lots of other Government agencies raked up unpaid bills in billions?

  • Where was Nationalism when a decision was hurriedly made to sell shares to UCOM without following due process?

  • Where was nationalism when the share holding structure was further altered to favour UCOM by reducing on that of the government?

  • Where was nationalism when UCOM continued having lee way over management issues in the business despite the expiry of an earlier agreement?

  • Where was Nationalism when Lap Green acquired the UCOM shareholding under unclear circumstances?

Hon Anite, your simplistic trend of thought is inexcusable for someone who has had a parliamentary stint. You have since enjoyed the perks of not only being a parliamentarian but also a ruling party member only for this to be later followed up with a ministerial position. Most of what you seem to share in this docket is either extracts from peers you relate with or smatterings of information that you collide with.

Hon Anite, if you want to appeal to our sense of nationalism, you need to present a package not these one off requests. We need to see you in government as being practising nationalists before we can kowtow.

As a UTL sim card holder, I have a lot of frustrations that I can share which will just show you that the entity, while being in the 21st century is actually being run with a 20th century mindset. During Sim Card registration, as Africell, Airtel and MTN were using electronic methods to register us, I walked to the UTL outlet at Game and the first thing they asked me was to go photocopy my National ID, write my number on the same paper and then wait till the photocopy is taken to the head quarters. I refused and as a result abandoned my line. I cant allow to be associated with such incompetence under the guise of nationalism.

It is now over two months since the Hon Nandala Mafabi probe into UTL, a lot of wrongs were unearthed but to-date, no action has been taken against the culprits. So much for nationalism.

While I may want UTL to continue existing for sentimental and nationalistic reasons, your very government’s inaction towards wanting to see it succeed has made me and many others give up on that side of things. Truth be told, we now don’t care afterall we are having some decent services from the other players. I do enjoy my data with Africell, Voice with MTN and occasionally Airtel’s Pakalast.

By the way, even if you legislated that we own UTL simcards, will you force us to use them? Does UTL have the capacity to support over 20 million users in its current derelict state?

Like a glutton who after puking calls upon others to clean his vomit, we are being rallied to support a cause for a mess others deliberately created.

#Temutukooya (Don’t make us tired)

As it is, the hussle in our economy is so real that the last thing on our mind should be dealing with such dreams that are devoid of a serious thought process.

For God and My Country

Wire James

Twitter: @wirejames

Ransomware, avoid being a victim

To-date, no one knows what she did on that laptop but the Executive Director of a leading government entity under the Ministry of Finance got her computer locked up by ransomware. All her information was encrypted and she eventually had to fork out millions of shillings to regain access.

Many of us are conversant with viruses and how they affect our computers or phones. However, they are just one category of crooked software that the bad guys use to mess up technology consumers.

Ransomware is malware (malicious software) that has the tendency to block you from accessing your files or data on that electronic gadget of yours. To regain the access, it requires you to pay a ransom fee.

Ransomware has been with us for a number of years but only gained prominence recently when the largest syndicated attack was launched. WannaCry has been the most prominent ransomware to-date that has had a significant impact on global computer systems. It begun on 12th May 2017 and within hours of rolling out, over two hundred thousand (200,000) machines across multiple countries had fallen victim.

How does it work?

Once the software infects a computer, it then proceeds to communicate to a central server using the very internet access on that computer. When in contact with the server, it requests for further instructions after which encryption commences on the infected computer using the instructions obtained. When the encryption is completed on all files, a message is displayed on the screen requesting for payment to decrypt the files with a threat to destroy this information if no action is taken.

Essentially, it needs all or some of the following;

  • A data network in order to spread from one computer to the other

  • A seemingly legitimate file/document through which it can be propagated

  • Email

  • A vulnerable computer operating system

What are the tell-tale signs of Ransomware?

Ransomware manifests in some or all of the following ways;

  • Encryption of all types of data/files

  • Display of hijack message to alert you

  • Request for payment in BitCoins

  • Transfers data to the central server eg passwords and email addresses

among others.

How can I avoid becoming a victim of Ransomware?

  1. Backup: Let us face it, the damage caused by ransomware boils down to denying you access to your data. If that is the case, then having a frequently updated backup of all your computer data will mean that no amount of threats can make you yield to the demands of attackers. You can simply set up your computer afresh and restore your data from the backup.

  2. Software Updates: First of all, ensure that you are running legitimate software on your computer (avoid pirated copies especially of Operating Systems). With legit software, you need to keep updating it as per the advisory of the company that supplies the software. There is always a good reason why they come up with frequent updates.

  3. Anti-Virus: It is advised that you make the presence of a recognised anti-virus software on your computer a must. Frequent database and engine updates are crucial too, considering that the suppliers of this software are always evolving it to meet the ever changing tactics of the hackers out there. Good anti-virus software has the ability to prevent some of these fishy emails or files from accessing your computer.

  4. Be slow to trust: In real life, we are always suspicious of that stranger who approaches us with a proposition on the roadside. Why then do we drop our guard and choose to trust any email we receive promising all sorts of things to us? Hackers are using Phishing Emails a lot lately to trick users into clicking certain links that then proceed to download the malicious software onto the computer. Other avenues are malicious website adverts and apps.

If you run an organisation, this is the time for you to have a comprehensive and regular Cyber Security training programme that will ensure that your staff are always aware about the dangers lurking out there on the internet and how they can grossly affect your operations.

Scenario1: You get to office one monday morning ready to complete a key business proposals due to be submitted before the end of day only to be met by a ransom notice on all the office network computers.

Scenario2: Your accountant is misled by an email into enabling macros as he tries to open an attachment that has been sent to him. The office accounting software runs off his computer and within a few minutes, the ransom notice pops up. Invoices can’t be generated or printed, all your accounting records are inaccessible and the tax authorities are demanding some overdue reconciliations.

These scenes can be real, but you have a choice to avoid seeing them happen. Do you have a need for guidance on this and other cyber security related matters? Do not hesitate to contact me on the email given below.

Let us fight Ransomware.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com