Tag Archives: voices of africa

Apologies Ahead of Time

I am writing to apologize ahead of time if I don’t get a chance to blog much this week. The end of this week is the launch of the Rural Internet Kiosk, and as a result, myself an all others on the Voices of Africa team are in crunchtime mode, trying to wrap up invitations, programs, food, and for me in particular, entering about 30,000 survey data points into a spreadsheet as well as writing up a little speech. Most likely there will come times when I just need a break though, so hopefully I will still get off a few blog articles. I still think sometimes I am not really in Peace Corps though. Spreadsheets? Internet Kiosks? What the heck is all of this?

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Kenya’s Fibre Optic: Botnets at the Speed of Light

The following is a syndication of a recent article I wrote for Voices of Africa.  It is moderately technical, but give it a shot anyway and see if you learn something.

First off, let me apologize if you have already
read an article about Botnets in Kenya, and their potential growth do
to the new fibre optic data cables that are landing and coming live
(however so slowly).  I want to put a spin on it, though not a large
one.  As this website’s mission is to empower the people of Kenya, and
Africa, to be heard on the internet, a direct result of this is
teaching people basic internet skills.  Teaching internet skills means
empowering people with internet connections, which are set to become
inexpensive and abundant in Kenya if all of the political and corporate
wrangling over the data cables eventually dies down.

As we all know, empowering people through the internet is not only
an avenue to be heard, but also to be spoken to, and dropping the
metaphor, consume data as well as produce.  It is this data consumption
that I am very concerned about in a Kenya more innudated by internet
than for which we may be ready.  A recent announcement by Microsoft to
not allow their Security Essentials software to be installed on pirated
copies of Windows has prompted this blog post.  How does this all lead
to Kenya being a haven for botnets and why do we even need to care?

Most all computers in Kenya are running pirated copies of Windows. 
Do I have the statistics to prove that? No.  Will I find them for you?
No.  If you want to argue about it, I will gladly direct you to the
nearest wall to which you can talk, for it will be a far more patient
listener than I.  This means that many computers in Kenya will not be
able to receive the Security Essentials Software when it goes online. 
Why do I care?  Because I was hoping this would be at least a step
forward in solving the Kenyan computer malware (viruses, spyware,
adware) epidemic.  It would integrate much nicer into pre-existing
Windows installations than other programs such as AVG, and would
combine many more protections into one product than the hodge-podge
soup solution of Ad-Aware, Spybot and [Insert favorite free
Anti-Virus]. ArsTechnica (a tech news site I hold in high regard) has
even given Security Essentials a thumbs up approval.  As an instructor,
I can barely stress to people the importance of protecting their
computers short of making analogies to sexually transmitted diseases
and protection against them, which if you ask some of my colleagues, is
also not an easy argument to make here!

Where does that leave Kenya on the brink of this supposed Internet
Renaissance? In trouble!  At first, viruses in Kenya were simply
nuisance USB Flash Disk viruses which would only potentially do
something other than replicate.  The introduction of new viruses into
the computer bloodstream was limited to single vectors of attack:
cybers, and even then, most cybers would result simply in quarantine,
as many people did not have means of transporting information out of
them.  Of course, USB Flash Disks introduced the exit vector from
quarantine, but for reasons I have not speculated upon, infection from
serious viruses remained minimal beyond annoyance level.

Soon it will not just be cybers acting as virus incubators however. 
More and more individuals will be purchasing computers as low-cost
solutions proliferate the market (netbooks, good-quality used machines,
etc.).  When low cost hardware, unprotected software, lack of education
and cheap internet align, the result is botnets.  It will be Europe and
America all over again.  We have seen the problem: blackmarket
organized crime able to purchase privately owned but unprotected zombie
computers in the thousands and use them as a platform to launch
attacks.  They have been used to take down high profile sites such as
Twitter, Facebook and even some portions of Google, that supposedly
impenetrable fortress.  In this situation most of all, we need to stop
emulating the West and be better than the West!  We can see the
problem.  We have the educated security professionals who should be
warning proper institutions of this threat.  We can protect Kenya.

What is to stop Kenya from becoming a breeding ground not only of
zombie computer hardware, but also a for black-hat, malacious, computer
programmers hoping to make a quick buck?  We all know the phrase
“homefield [or turf] advantage”.  Who would know the layout of ICT
infrastructure in Kenya better than Kenyans? We have the best
infrastructure of any East African Nation, we have the most capital of
any East African Nation, and as a result, we have the most to lose.  I
do not want to see Kenya become the next Botnet Marketplace.  I do not
want to see Kenyan IP addresses as the originating source of the next
major web attack. I want to empower Kenyans to use the Internet to
speak their minds, and tell their stories, and I know that the story of
Kenya is not that of vicious programmers and malcontents happy to do
damage using their newfound power, but we cannot let the rest of the
world think that.  It would go against the best interests and
international image of Kenya to be perceived as the new source of
internet woes.

Practice protection when using the internet.  Solutions include
learning (and subsequently teaching), how to use a mix of free
anti-malware solutions to protect a computer.  This is not easy, and
most users will just shrug and ignore you.  Many of these solutions are
not as user-friendly as they should be, considering the gravity of the
situation.  Possibly stress moving off of the Windows platform
completely.  This removes the barrier to maintaining the most up to
date software and thus the most protected software.  Think open source
solutions, such as a GNU/Linux based solution. Take a class in proper
internet safety.  When browsing the web, at least make sure your Web
Browser is the most recent version.  I won’t even tell you which one to
use (though I prefer Mozilla Firefox), because in this day and age, all
major browser vendors acknowledge the need for the browser to be the
first level of security and have thus taken steps to make protecting
yourself easy (if not mindless).

The internet is not a safe place for those caught unaware, so always
be prepared, be vigilant.  If we all work our hardest to stay informed
of the latest threats and use proper security techniques, we can
protect the image of Kenya as it emerges into the globally connected
world. Empower people to use their voices, but also teach them how to
be a good internet citizen.  These two tasks must go hand in hand if we
are to walk safely and peacefully into the future together.

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My Other Blog Home

I have been having a long, internal debate, about the particulars of setting up a blog for the more technical side of my volunteering.  Ya know, the geeky stuff nobody really cares about except for, well, geeks.  And hopefully development workers.  Hopefully they care as well.  I debated setting up a second blog here, under my wordpress account, but realized that it would not really get an audience, and as much as I like talking to walls, sometimes I’d like to think the wall was actually listening.  I know I have an audience for my “zany adventures,” blog, but I have a feeling the geeky side wouldn’t attract much attention.  Instead of operating here on my own, I have jumped my own ship for the ship of a friend.  My tech blogging will occur at http://voicesofafrica.info.  There you will get to read the rantings and ravings of myself as well as other geeky development types.  How great is that!  I know you are all just gonna head over there right now!  Just thought I would keep you all posted.  Don’t worry, I will still be blogging here, no worries 🙂

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The Winds of Change, They be a Blowin’

I know, I know, long time, no update. But it’s because I have been busy!!!! I know, what!?! This can’t be!?! We sent him over there to do nothing, how did he find things to do!? Get over it, here’s the recap:

Nairobi

If you all remember from last post, my avid readers found me about to set off on the always magical, often life-threatening trip to Nairobi. Needless to say, after a 9 hour bus ride, followed by 3 hours of traffic, I arrived at my little slice of heaven in Nairobi, Upper Hill Campsite. Settled in for a good Hamburger and a chat with my Peace Corps friend Leah, who has sadly left service and was in Nairobi for the end of service process. But she was happy doing so, so that’s what matters, being happy! Then hit the hay hard. That bus ride is exhausting.

The next day was day one of crazy meetings. Did I mention I was with Crystal and her family? She is the Voices of Africa lady and the primary reason for going to Nairobi. Our first meeting was with a trading company in NRB whose CEO is very interested in Crystals Tuk Tuk mobile information center. So interested in fact that he called us back for another meeting. He is very interested in creating what seems to be a Socially responsible business model for some of his future endeavors and Crystal was able to wow him with some of her ideas. I provided tech support and technical opinions for the meeting. Not going to lie, I feel there is a really big potential for socially responsible corporations to do some real good in the world and make up for where development agencies have come up short, but it is relatively untested waters, so we need to swim carefully.

That afternoon it was then off to the US Embassy to meet the ambassador. Jess, the manager at Upper Hill was making fun of me for ironing my clothes that morning before the meetings, saying that the ambassador is not that big a deal, but I felt differently. We arrived at the embassy (after realizing there’s nothing to do around the embassy to kill time) early, and after 3 security checks (less intensive than an airport however…) we were able to wait in the lobby. The inside of the Embassy just feels like America. I know how cheesy that may sound, but it just does. Otherwise it doesn’t look any different from some of the office buildings in Nairobi, but at the same time, not all buildings in Nairobi feel like America. Like I said a long time ago, something is always just a little different. But here, everything felt at it should.

If your wondering how we got an appointment with the ambassador, it was easy, Crystal asked. She sent an email and they replied and said it was ok and scheduled one.

We met Mr. Ranenberger and his Assistant Jonathan that day and got a chance to discuss the general US Policy in Kenya in relation to development and they informed us that though they couldn’t offer some direct assistance they would certainly inquire more into some of Crystal’s proposals that seem to have got lost in the muck. Then the ambassador said he had to cut his part of the meeting short because of a crisis in Somalia (“Isn’t there always a crisis in Somalia?” / “Yes but this one is worse.”), and then myself, Crystal and Jonathan continued to discuss various parts of development in Africa. Overall it was good to just get info straight from the horses mouth, and Crystal got her chance to tell the ambassador in person how much she likes him, which he seemed to appreciate. What we also talked about confirmed mine and Crystal’s perception of the situation on the ground in Likoni. It’s a good feeling when the US and you share similar viewpoints. Solidifies your footing for moving forward. After our meeting, we went home and crashed.

Friday morning was a meeting with Google, or Google Round 2 as I call it. This time we got a chance to talk to Mark the Geo Team Lead. I threw at him some ideas for mapping and whatnot and in general we talked about the role of GIS in development. Crystal also talked to him about her Tuk Tuk and though he couldn’t offer any direct assistance he said he would be happy to help us get the proposals into the right hands. So that was good. Hopefully we were cordial enough that there will be a round 3 for google. I see a great opportunity for branding for them, as well as creating a socially responsible role in the east african community as a whole.

Friday afternoon I got a chance to attend the board meeting of Voices of Africa, which was good. The board has a really good grasp on the situations in Africa, and Crystal updated them with all the footwork she’s been doing, and introduced me as well. Yet another busy day!

Saturday morning Crystal and I had a very early meeting with our Tuk Tuk partner to discuss in more detail the future of the project, as well as some other ideas he hopes crystal can help him with. That afternoon I spent on the couch watching the Arsenal vs. Man U match. Man U won. I think I was supposed to cheer. I chose to dose instead.

So that ends part one of this update. I was going to write more about NYS and the good things happening here as well, but I am actually too busy to write it at the moment. hopefully later. Probably tomorrow. Until then, hopefully this gives you all some insight that I am happy and running around like a chicken with its head caught off. I find myself having gone through the stereotypical Peace Corps process of throwing myself at heaps of projects and seeing which ones pan out. Above is only a smidgeon of things I am working on and Ill keep you posted about everything else. The past few weeks have been BUSY!

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