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Tech

Beware of this WhatsApp Scam

Posted on 2 min read

A socially engineered attack is taking over WhatsApp accounts. In the scam that is now going round in Kenya, WhatsApp users receive an SMS from WhatsApp with a code, then a WhatsApp message from one of their contacts asking them to send them the code which they ‘sent to them by mistake.’

While the WhatsApp message is genuine and appears to come from one of your contacts, the contact has had their WhatsApp hacked and it is a scammer who is controlling the account. If you forward the code provided, you are doomed.

The verification code that the hacker wants you to send is a One Time Password that will be used to register your WhatsApp on another number, or even set up a WhatsApp Business account. Once they do this you will lose access to your WhatsApp and although they will not access previous chats and conversation, they will have access to your groups, from where they can target more people because they have the contact.

They will use those contacts in the groups to initiate more hacks and use your WhatsApp to contact the new hacks to request that they forward the attackers the WhatsApp code that was sent to them by mistake. This nets more victims who fall for the scam.

I am not sure what the hackers are after, but they could make use of the personal data that they collect, or request your contacts to send them money.

What do you if you have already Shared the Code?

If you have received a request to share a code, the best you can do is to ignore the message and alert the person who was hacked to take action.

If you have been hacked, you end up losing access to your WhatsApp. The next course of action is to reinstall WhatsApp on your phone. This will deny the hacker access to your account and restore your WhatsApp to you.

How can you prevent such an attack from happening? You can set up a two factor authentication for your WhatsApp. This was, some will need a PIN in order to set up your WhatsApp on another phone. To do this, go to WhatsApp > Settings > Account > Two-step Verification.

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The Evolution of Electricity and Home Appliances

Posted on 3 min read

In 1879, Thomas Edison had a light bulb moment – literally. He invented a working light bulb. It was a major disruption to a world that was used to expensive and dirty oil lamps. Only the rich could afford to stay up late at night burning the mid night oil. The world was on the blink of a revolution.

To make the invention work, several things needed to be done. One of them was a method of electrical production and distribution. In 1882, Edison switched on the first power station that would produce electricity and distribute it to neighboring factories. This was the beginning of the long journey towards commercializing electricity and a lot of work went into inventing and designing the infrastructure that would make that a success.

Transmission over long distance was a problem until a Swedish Engineer Jonas Wenström came up with a solution that was in form of Three Phase AC current. This allowed for industries to be build away from Power generation sites, such as rivers. Prior to that, electricity needed to be produced near where it would be consumed and this would involve playing about with the location of the consumers (industries), or the power plants. Today, electricity can be transported over thousands of miles with minimal losses.

As electricity became a popular source of energy, one area that had a slow application was in the home appliances.

The Start of Home Appliances

Initially, electricity was being supplied in homes only for lighting purposes and it remained so for a long time. There were no electric appliances to be used at home. It was a lighting affair.

Appliances started showing up with the electric fan in 1890. Electric iron, vacuum cleaner, toaster, and a washing machine showed up. All these were primitive devices, very different from what we have today. The vacuum cleaner as so bulky that it needed at least two people to operate. It was the beginning of an age that people realized that they could use the newly available energy to make work easier at home.

The development followed an interesting path because houses were only wired for lighting. This means that all the appliances that were available would all be screwed into the bulb holder. There were neither electric sockets/receptacles nor switches that could regulate the flow of power. Devices were meant to be unplugged when not in use.

With time, home appliances became more affordable, available and safer to use. This necessitated planning for them, and building services providers started to design the house wiring in a way that could accommodate the appliances.

With the advent of consumer electronics, home appliances increased and today there are tens of appliances that are used at home. These include air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, drying cabinets, freezers, refrigerators, kitchen stoves, water heaters, washing machines, trash compactors, microwave ovens, and induction cookers.

Other smaller appliances include juicers, electric mixers, meat grinders, coffee grinders, deep fryers, herb grinders, food processors, electric kettles, waffle irons, coffee makers, blenders, dough blenders, rice cookers, toasters and exhaust hoods. Consumer electronics include radio receivers, TVs, cameras, computers, smartphones and many more.

Advancement in Home Wiring

House wiring has been standardized to allow for the adoption of various home appliances that may be needed. One of the needs today is to allow for smart devices that are interconnected and possibly connected to the internet.

However, the current wiring practices applied today are very rigid and possibly fit for the late 80’s. Even houses that are being built today fail to plan for the increasing number of appliances that are in use today and with little planning for smart devices. Even with simple devices like home theaters, one is forced to run cables under the seats and in awkward places. CCTV installations force one to start drilling and fitting conduits in places where they could have easily been provisioned for during the design. Getting the WiFi signal in different parts of the house is usually a hectic task.

It is like we are still living in the age when everything was plugged into the light bulb holder.

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The Huduma Namba

Posted on 6 min read

Huduma Namba has been a running theme in Kenya for almost two years now. This is a biometric digital identification system for Kenyan Citizens, technically known as the National Integrated Identification Management Systems (NIIMS). It was aimed at creating a single source of person’s identity in Kenya with the aim of increasing access to government services and also reduces chances of identity theft.

The system would involve registration of all person aged six years and above in Kenya by the government, by collecting biometric and other data such as fingerprints retina and iris scan, contact information, family, profession and other biodata. This was b

Since its inception, there has been a number of challenges to the project and while the government started issuing the cards in October 2020, there is still a long way to go. First, we look at why this was started in the first place.

Why Identification?

Having a form of legal identity is important. Everyone needs a document or something demonstrate that they are what they say they are. Without such, it is almost impossible to identify oneself outside your local community and this effectively denies one access to many services. You cannot get a passport, you cannot open a bank account, you cannot register a SIM card and in an increasingly digital world, you have little options.

Today, more than 1 billion people in the world lack a form of a recognized ID.

This is why various global bodies have been pushing to get everybody a form of Identification. Article Six of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” This is also in Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seeks to provide legal identity for all by the year 2030.

The State of Identification in Kenya

In Kenya, we’ve had a form of identification in place – the National ID – which is mandatory for every Kenyan aged 18 years and above. This has always been very useful because it is a unique identifier for every person in the country, making it possible to identify people by their ID numbers. In places where such does not exist, chaos rule. Banks have to figure out which ‘John Doe’ made a bank deposit because there are many John Doe.

However, the system that currently exists in Kenya has a major limitation majorly because it is not digital. It involves information on paper, with a passport photo and a signature as the primary method of identification. There is also an image of the holder’s fingerprint, but this is also on paper and it is not easy to compare one’s fingerprint against a database of fingerprints held on paper. This is where a form of digital identification proves useful, and the government’s response to this was the Huduma Namba.

The Solution

In 2019, the government came up with a miscellaneous act to amend the Registration of Persons Act, allowing for the establishment of a biometric database of Kenyans – NIIMS. From the government, it was supposed to be a system with one card that holds all the information about the person such as driving license, NHIF information, birth registration, tax information and any other data held by government institutions.

Challenges in Implementation

The implementation of the project was at best chaotic and at worst, designed to fail. As Wainaina Mungai from SafeHouse Africa opines, Kenya needed the Huduma Namba, but not in the form that it was presented or the extent of data it sought to capture and store. It would help ensure the integrity of data and reduce the number of IDs required to access services. One challenge in the implementation was the lack of adherence to an enabling legal framework anchored in international best practice and treaties Kenya should ratify.

Limited public participation meant that the public was not fully aware of what the system was about, as well as the potential benefits of the project. Instead of educating people so that they could register based on the perceived benefits, the government resulted to threats, warning people that they may not receive some government services if they did not register.

This undermined the whole process because this is a major change to how people access government services and principles of change management should have been applied. Kenyan could have learnt from the difficulties experienced in Tanzania, India and Nigeria while implementing a national ID system. In all these places, it has taken quite a long time and it is unreasonable to expect that all Kenyans would quickly rush to register for a service they knew little about. The court cases in India dragged on for ten years.

The issue of privacy was also raised. At the start if the process, Kenya lacked the necessary laws to govern the use of the data that was being collected. This is data that could be used to profile people and it was not very clear what was the use of the data. There needed to be a clearly defined use for the data and the users should retain the ownership of the data. The government had also intended to collect DNA and location information, something that would be an infringement of privacy and would make the whole process even more suspicious. Luckily. This part was struck out by the court but damage had already been done.

There was also the challenge with security. This was a serious flaw because when you have biometric data centralized, you attract hackers who can easily get away with the data. The people handling the data could also pose a risk to the same, hence the need to have a platform that is secure, such as the one running on blockchain technology. This has been used in places like Estonia where they have a functioning digital ID. The challenge with biometric data is that it cannot be changed if breached. While one can easily change a password, they cannot change their fingerprint.

Another unintended consequence that could result from the Huduma Namba is exclusion; the exact opposite of what it intends to achieve. If there is one card that will be used to access all government service, lacking that card means that one is locked out from all such services. This was a concern raised by the Nubian community who lack ID cards, hence were not eligible to be registered for the Huduma Namba.

What Next?

No doubt, a functional digital ID is becoming increasingly necessary in a digital world. Kenya needs to take this route to fully take advantage of the digital revolution, but the process should be done right.

A research by The Engine Room titled ‘Understanding the Lived Effects of Digital ID: A Multi-Country Study’ argues that the process of obtaining a digital ID matters just as much as the end result. The policies that are establish to protect the rights of the people are also useless unless if they are operationalized. This calls for Kenya to rethink the implementation process in a way that the concerns raised are catered for and have a realistic timeline. It may be a few more years before we can have the Huduma Namba fully functional.

But the benefits would be great. Huduma Namba would lead to an easy way of accessing government services and would result to time and resources saved. The identification system would also benefit the private sector by making it easy to offer financial services to all people and greatly reduce the Know-Your-Customer process. Processes like applying for passports would be easier and shorter because one would not need to present the same data to the immigration department again. There would be no need of a complicated registration process in schools. All this and much more would translate to money saved.

As the global economy becomes increasingly digital, Huduma Namba might be the magic wand that will propel Kenya to benefit from data, but we still have a long way to go.

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The Dirty Side of Solar Energy

Posted on 2 min read

When it is time to go green, solar power becomes a favorite source of energy. Many people and institutions continue to adopt this source of energy that is essentially free and available in many places especially along the equator.

But it comes at a cost. There are two matters of concern as far as solar energy is concerned:

Spinning Reserve

A major challenge with wind and solar is that they demand for a spinning reserve in order to compensate for the unpredictable nature of these energy sources. If you have 300 MW, you need to set aside a reliable 100 MW on standby, and this often comes from hydro. The problem with this is that hydro is a very cheap source of power and it is better if we are using it at full capacity. This is something that increases the general cost of electricity.

The alternative could be something different, but dirty, such as coal. As a country increases the use of solar and wind energy, the more it will require to have a different source of power on standby.

Waste

The process of manufacturing solar panels is not very clean. On the other hand, the panels do not last forever, and need to be disposed.

There are many places without a definite recycling plans for these panels, and soon we might see a lot of waste starting to pile up. Recycling is not easy, and is not cheap. Manufacturers have to be compelled to recycle, and this would be after a long time of use – 20 years or so. This makes the whole process difficult especially in Africa where the solar panels are imported.

What’s Next?

While there are such challenges, the future of solar still looks bright. The technology is improving at a very fast speed and some of the current challenges will be solved with time. The future of solar is still bright.

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Android Tax?

Posted on 1 min read

Can you imagine Google squeezing out 1.8% of all income from the poorest of all people in the developing world? It sounds crazy, but it could be happening.

Word going round is that Android phones exchange 260 MB of data every month with Google servers. This happens in the background even when no applications are running and even when using cellular network.

If this allegation is true, then Google has a big case to answer. 260 MB of data would easily go unnoticed in a world where people have access to a dedicated bandwidth of internet connection. But for the many parts of the world where people depend on cellular networks to access the internet, this is something of great concern.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the average cost of 1GB of mobile broadband in Africa was 7.12% of average monthly income in 2019. This implies that this background data transfer by Android phones would cost people 1.8% of their total income, if they have the data and keep mobile data enabled on their phones.

This is a major heist!

It could be the reason why many people suspect that telcos such as Safaricom steal their mobile data. It would be the reason why most people will keep mobile data disabled on their phones, unless they are actively using it. Android users could be paying a form of tax!

Is it true, Google?           

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In God We Trust, Everyone Else Bring Data

Posted on 2 min read

It is often said that data is the new oil.

This statement is in comparison to the transformation that oil has brought to the world since the late 1800s, where oil has become the most used energy source today. Before the Second Industrial Revolution, different forms of oil were in use for various purposes but it was the large-scale production and use of crude oil and its products that was transformational.

This is the same case with data. While data has played a crucial role in the digital economy today, it is not something that is new to human beings. Throughout history, people have leveraged data to their advantage. Since we learnt how to count and write, an ongoing evolution has been the capture and use of data.

The Story of the Kenyan Farmer

I heard of a story about a settler farmer in the Rift Valley region of Kenya who was quite good in predicting the weather, to the extent that neighbors thought that he had some divine powers. While other farmers were losing crops to rain failure, he seemed to know if and when the rains would come and thus plan accordingly.

It took the intervention of inquisitive primary school pupils to find out the powers behind his accurate weather prediction, which turned out to be data. His family had kept accurate weather records for over 70 years, and from this data there were some obvious patterns and cycles. Using this data, the good farmer was becoming a weather guru.

Data Can Tell Stories

Interpreting data can reveal a lot.

Target, an American retail corporation, wanted to identify pregnant women who frequented their stores. As it turns out, by analyzing the purchasing behavior of customers, it is possible to identify an expectant woman and even predict the expected date of delivery.

Within a short time, Target was able to identify expectant women so accurately that it brought conflicts elsewhere. An angry parent stormed Target to protest that they were sending her teenage daughter promotions for expectant mothers. Weeks later, the same parent came back to Target to apologize because the daughter was actually pregnant.

For Target, what a customer put in the shopping basked was as good as a pregnancy test.

If Data, then What?

Understanding how data works can help one make one goo use of the opportunities presented by the same. It will also help one stay safe by sharing their data responsibly. It has been proven that most Kenyans are unknowingly giving out their personal data online.

In the coming articles, I will share how data is transforming our world today. Data is valuable, but to them that are able to exploit it.

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