Cybersecurity: Rise of the enemy within

Sunday September 17 2023

Side view of hacker using computer with digital interface while sitting at desk of blurry interior. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Kenya has experienced two major cyber-attacks in the last few months, with the latest one affecting the government’s online portal, paralysing services for days and raising questions over safety of cyber systems in the country.

A leading retail store chain also recently reported a data breach, resulting in the theft of customer and employee data by criminals, poking holes in their cybersecurity resilience in the face of rising cybercrime on a global scale.

The latest Africa Cybersecurity Outlook report by consultancy firm KPMG released last year September revealed that three in 10 businesses in the region fell victim to a cyberattack in 2022, higher than anywhere else on the continent, as firms rapidly adopt digital technologies but with minimal expertise and awareness on protection of their digital systems and infrastructure.

Read: Kenya to grant visas on arrival after online system hacked

The survey of about 300 companies across different sectors on the continent also showed that despite the rising incidences of cyberattacks, about 20 percent of the companies have no clearly defined frameworks and strategies to mitigate cybersecurity risks.

But experts argue that even though many companies today are investing in cybersecurity, they are mostly focusing on deploying antiviruses and firewalls, which only protect them against external attackers but not internal ones, who have become a significant, yet subtle, threat to companies lately.


The Data Breach Investigations Report 2023 by American network operator Verizon showed that two in 10 of all cyberattacks across the globe this year were perpetrated by internal actors, who misused privileged access to systems for their own nefarious interests.

Over 80 percent of those who misuse their privileged access rights were motivated by financial gain, while others did it for a grudge, espionage, fun, or convenience, the Verizon survey revealed.

Carlo Gunter, CEO of cybersecurity firm Attitude Dynamics reckons that companies’ failure to protect their systems from internal attackers is their greatest misdeed and vulnerability.

“We are so worried about attacks coming from the outside that we forget to take care of the inside facilities, the rooms within the house, forgetting that even those within our fences can still attack us,” he told The EastAfrican in an interview.

“That’s why in addition to the antiviruses and firewalls that firms invest in, they still need privileged access management (Pam) to fully secure systems from internal and external perpetrators.”

Read: Kenya denies claims of being hacked by China

Pam is the cybersecurity tool that is used to exercise control over permissions for users, accounts, or processes in a digital ecosystem. It ensures specific people can access only specific items in the system and notifies administrators whenever a user tries to exceed their permissions.

“The ability to work remotely has elevated the problem. In the past, everybody that had access to all your servers and all your privileged environment was sitting in the same office, and was easier to control security risks,” Mr Gunter said.

The growing need for Pam reflects in the projections of its market size and value over the next ten years. 

While the entire market of Pam systems is $3.28 billion, it is projected to hit $22.69 billion in 2033, a survey by US-based Persistent Market Research shows.