With Elections Around The Corner, Will Digital Espionage Be On The Rise?

Kenya's presidential elections are around the corner and the frenzy is about to begin in earnest pitting political newcomers and incumbents in the fight for relevance, votes and an eventual seat at the table of policy makers and legislators.

An age old strategy in any political game is to compromise your opponent, and while it is said that everyone has a number, it is even better, if you can have one less opponent running for the same ticket without having to pay a dime to them. The reality is that compromising any of our current or aspiring legislators is very easy in this digital age and it does not even require the hacker group Anonymous to be sold into some covert mission.

Digital footprints are easy to follow and even when they lead in a general direction, the court of public opinion often tends to back the populist train of thought often riding on the rails of a confused collective moral thread and a stirring of emotions.

Even the best of us have an Achilles heel or a skeleton that while not shaping anything we may stand for or back now, may have a “not so desired” effect on a populace.

How Can A Potential Candidate Get Compromised?

Well, the weaknesses are everywhere.

For a start, GSM technology that underpins most global communication outside the Internet is not secure. It is very easy to rig up rouge infrastructure right outside a politician’s house, drinking den or party headquarters, using off the shelf hardware and readily available base transmitting station simulation software to intercept mobile communications.

The mobile phone is predisposed to latch onto the strongest available network and apart from listening in spoofing can also be done.

The internet is a time sink and while stuck in some random debate one may inadvertently succumb to well worded click bait that carries their name or that of a close associate delivered by a hyper-targeted Ad via the numerous Ad networks that monetize the free web.

A quick install later and blinded by the thirst for information, fire-hose access is granted to an app whose sole function is to funnel anything and everything that the politician does to a 3rd party, contents of which may be used against them in the future.

A new phone, laptop, fancy USB stick perhaps?

Free gifts are the kindergarten of espionage.

Mitigation

The only sure fire way to go off this radar is becoming a hermit and dumping technology products in their entirety but that would beat the purpose of being in politics which requires visibility, interaction and reach.

Situational awareness however must come as a default, with the start being knowledgeable on how things work or ought to work and avoiding juvenile mistakes.

Bolster the security of your communication channels on mobile and desktop. When WhatsApp wanted to take their messaging service to the next level and offer encryption, they partnered with Open Whisper Systems, makers of the Red Phone, which has since been combined with yet another app called TextSecure to create Signal that promises private calls and messaging. Signal is open sourced so it means you can have a custom limited distribution build. Some messaging apps have a screen shot alert that would notify you if the person you are having a conversation with takes a picture of your active conversation window, a good to have at a time where conversations with allies rides on thin trust and there are no permanent friends or enemies.

There are many other options along this line not forgetting the humble VPN while going online. Going the Tor way would be overkill though.

As a precaution always check to see what is pre-loaded and running on your devices and get rid of things that are not core to your purpose for the device. You can root your mobile device and have a custom OS run whose workings you are more transparent to you, and the same applies for your desktop or laptop.

The scenario is the same for business leaders so it is time to get smarter about protecting yourself around the digital channels at your disposal.

Cover Image, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta | Michael Khateli

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