Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cyberterrorism over ‘Yes/No’ campaigns

Sunday Nation 1 August 2010

There are only three short days to go until Kenyans go to the ballot to decide whether we shall have a new constitutional dispensation or not.

The truth of the matter, as has been articulated by various commentators on this issue, is that in the referendum we shall be choosing between the current Constitution and the proposed constitution. There is no Bomas draft, no church draft and no ‘No’ draft to compare with the two documents above.

At this point, presumably everyone who is going to vote has already made up their mind how they will vote, and very little can be done to change these positions.

This is why I was so stunned early last week when I fell victim to a phishing scam perpetrated by someone sympathetic to one of the sides in the referendum campaign.

In view of the fact that the attack was so brazen and many others may have fallen victim to similar schemes, I will disclose the full particulars of the attack, and hope that something can be learned from it.

Early last week, I received a message on Facebook from someone claiming to have sensitive information concerning funds secretly wired to the ‘No’ campaign. She invited me to open a certain link to access the information.

The link seemed to be pointing to a website going by the curious name “”. For a while I dismissed the message as a piece of propaganda given that, if such information existed, I would hardly be the first person to hear about it.

Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me, and I resolved to try and open the message, and at the same time change my password just in case it was a phishing scam.

I did both, but as it turns out, I was a few seconds too late in changing my password. Shortly after discovering the message was indeed a cyberterrorist attack, I lost control of my Facebook account. Soon I started receiving email messages indicating that I had posted something outrageous on my profile.

I managed to momentarily regain control of the account, and discovered that the hacker had posted something to the effect that I had decided to publicly express my reservations about the proposed constitution, giving completely ridiculous reasons such as that the Draft supports abortion and homosexuality and similar inanities.

It took me over three hours to be able to regain full control of the Facebook account, as well as of my alternate email address (which they had also hacked into), by which time the hacker had engaged at least one of my friends in some sort of conversation about “my” reasons for the apparent change of heart.

This incident brought home to me the degree of desperation in these campaigns.

The final point demonstrated by this attack is the misconception that many hold about the draft constitution and entire referendum — that the outcome hangs on the opinions of some influential individuals in society, and not on those of individual Kenyan voters.

The country today stands on the cusp of history, and if we throw away this opportunity at re-engineering the architecture of the state, we might as well give up and let the next generation do it for us.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine www.

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