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Varsities become hackers’ new happy hunting grounds

Kenyan universities have become prime targets for hackers who sell off financial records and other important data to rival institutions of higher learning.

Foreign and homegrown hackers are also said to be holding top university officials to ransom with demands for large sums of money to relinquish crucial data, with public universities as the main targets.

A new report by security appliances provider, Cyberoam shows the practice is, especially rampant in two top public universities where students undertaking ICT courses are increasingly joining the “dark web.” “Attacks on websites are no longer proof that hackers have hit you.

It is turning out to be an income generator and has gone on a full scale,” said Cyberoam country channel manager Philip Obondy. A single document from these institutions is traded at about $300 (Sh30,260), placing the education sector second after health in the number and magnitude of data breaches, says the Cyberoam report.

High speed Internet connectivity in the country and increased adoption of free Internet access for students in institutions of higher learning are said to fuel growth in number of homegrown “hacktivists.” “These have in fact opened the flood gates to local attacks,” said Obondy during the report’s release at an education sector forum on Internet security in Nairobi.

People Daily has learnt that Kenya’s premier university—the University of Nairobi—though not on the list of vulnerable learning institutions, it experiences attempted attacks nearing a million daily.

The new generation of hackers, the report said, is trading on secret codes using their own form of currency, the most preferred being the bitcoins to gain access to unauthorised sites.

The survey by the global network security firm revealed hacking of grades database, breach of online payment and accounting and cyber bullying are on the rise.

Tech-savvy IT graduates and students are increasingly becoming more curious to hack into school systems, largely blamed on some ICT training courses that practically teach them how to bring down a computer system.

“Most of those graduates gaining access to the systems go there to adjust grades and fee balances. It makes lecturers victims of the students,” said Obondy. Free Internet access has enabled students to pull off pranks amongst themselves and lecturers while others perpetrate cyber bullying using funny pop-ups and bandwidth chocking that risk exposing computers to virus attacks.

“If we have to train on how to penetrate a network, it should be ethical,” said Computer Learning Centre business development manager Helen Ngure.

Cyberoam took the opportunity to promote some of its product including one that sieves and blocks sites that are perceived as not helpful to learning institutions. It controls Google searches using specific key words.

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