As Kenya awaits the arrival of the first submarine fibre optic cable next month, security concerns are being raised as to how prepared the country is to counter cyber crime.
Once the cables land in Kenya, companies will become more accessible on the World Wide Web, attracting the attention of sophisticated hackers.
The submarine cables will increase Internet connection speeds to international standards, where all levels of Internet access, from large corporates to home access, will not only be found throughout the country, but will also be affordable to many.
The cables expected to land in Mombasa are Seacom in June, the Kenya government-sponsored East African Marine Systems (Teams), at the end of this year, and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (Eassy) next year.
On landing, the cables will be connected to the existing terrestrial fibre-optic cable network, including the country’s national fiber backbone infrastructure that connects Kenya’s major towns and the country’s border points.
According to industry experts, companies operating in Kenya must upgrade their information security systems to keep off international hackers from accessing their networks and databases.
According to UUNet Kenya managing director Tom Omariba, companies must move with speed to instal the latest information security systems to avoid financial loss through theft or data corruption.
“Hackers have a considerable technical ingenuity and an anarchic capacity for destroying secure systems,” says IT security expert Lionel Mbogho, who has operated in the US for several years.
Kenyan companies, he argues, face a higher risk because they do not have the security consciousness and advanced security systems found in developed countries such as the US, where the hacker threat has existed for a number of years.
Hackers are a product of cheap Internet access. They are mostly young men in their early 20s who operate from home, said Mr Mbogho.
“There is no difference between a teenage boy in Houston, Texas, and one in Nairobi. They are all exposed to the same things,” he said, adding, “They play on people’s fear of the unknown, roaming free on the digital super highways, deriving pleasure from using their superior knowledge to infiltrate other people’s personal security.”
The submarine cables will be a watershed since the sector was fully deregulated six years ago with the end of Telkom Kenya’s monopoly, and the creation of Jambonet.
Several Internet service providers have already laid fibre optic cables in the country’s urban centres. These are: Kenya Data Networks (KDN), Telkom Kenya, AccessKenya, Jamii Telecom Ltd, Wananchi Online and the latest entrant, the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC).
The projects being undertaken by these companies are expected to improve the country’s communication and global competitiveness.
Apart from Telkom Kenya, which started laying cables almost 20 years ago, KDN, which is a shareholder in Teams and Eassy submarine projects, has the most expansive fibre and WiMAX networks in the region. The company has been laying fibre-optic cables since 2005 at a cost of over $330 million and has laid about 500km of cable in Nairobi alone.
The company’s national backbone runs from Mombasa, through Voi, Nairobi, Nakuru and Eldoret to Malaba on the Uganda border. KDN also has back-up routes through Busia, Kisumu, Kisii, Kericho, Nyeri, Garissa, Malindi and Meru.
The backbone project started in 2006 and is still ongoing.
AccessKenya has spent Ksh700 million ($8.75 million) on its metro fibre project.
According to Jonathan Somen, the company’s managing director, the company decided to lay its own cable because it is financially viable. He said it will add to its existing wireless capacity and will give it the additional profit of the local connection segment for its clients rather than paying a third-party.
AccessKenya has spent the past six months working on ensuring its backbone network is upgraded to handle the new capacities and security system.
KPLC is installing about 1,500km of fibre optic cable on its countrywide transmission network, primarily for its own use in a $33 million System Control and Data Acquisition (Scada) project. However, the Network Facility Provider — Tier 2 licence allows the power distributor to lease out excess bandwidth.
Besides increasing competition in the telecommunication sector, the cable will boost shareholder value and create a new income stream.