Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Hackers Challenge

Much as information technology has helped global interaction by reducing it to a global village, it has brought with it a pack of discomfort and pain. One such pain is brought by the activities of those who secretly invade the privacy of others on the internet. Otherwise called hackers, these co-users of the internet, put their superior knowledge of the Internet to mischievous use.
The recent case of a strange e-mail on President Umaru Yar’Adua, sent to some media houses purportedly under the internet platform of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), may be just one of the many examples of the evil hacking has come to present. NAN has denied sending such an e- mail from its platform. Unless otherwise revealed through investigation, what possibly happened was that hackers had invaded the NAN internet domain and sent the mail, all to achieve mischievous ends.
In the same way, one of the major newspapers in the country also had its platform invaded recently. The hackers had declared that they were “a group of hackers in Nigeria” and boasted of having seized the CMS (Content Management System) of the newspaper’s site in such a way that the hackers’ message that displaced the newspaper’s stories could neither be edited nor scrambled.
That the information highway in Nigeria is porous and vulnerable is no longer in doubt. Indeed, the “group of hackers in Nigeria” had berated the Nigerian government for not doing enough to secure and protect the Nigeria-based internet domains.
For a nation striving to encourage electronic transactions - registrations, financial transactions, and communication - the need to protect the “internet integrity of the nation,’ cannot be over emphasized. Left unprotected and not maximally secured, there is no gainsaying that the nation and indeed all businesses in the country are in grave danger over the harm hackers can cause in the system.
It is perhaps in the full realisation of this danger that the Senate is presently considering a Bill aimed at containing the activities of these internet criminals.
The Bill has proposed a 14 years jail term or Five Million Naira fine (or both) for those involved in any category of the listed internet crimes, including those who send viruses to wreck the computer systems of others.
The hackers who often operate like mercenaries can indeed shut down the information system of institutions, conglomerates and indeed vital agencies of a nation. The enormity of the harm these hackers can cause should make the senators speed up the bill. It must not be one of those bills that spend eternity in the chambers without becoming laws.
Experts have however argued that a better means of protecting the nation is by signing on to uncommon internet portals like Nigeria’s domain. The experts explain that common portals like Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail are more prone to hackers’ mischief, notwithstanding efforts by organisations to shield themselves from hackers through system upgrade.
While it is crucial that the government takes urgent measures to protect the country from the activities of these criminals, entrepreneurs must also invest heavily in anti-hackers’ softwares and facilities as a way of protecting the soul of their businesses.
Even at that, the human element as a factor in all of this cannot be underestimated. Technical personnel placed in charge of such sensitive posts in various organisations must be people of impeccable character who will not compromise nor sabotage the integrity of their organisations.
It is also important for Nigerians to be aware of this menace, and particularly for security personnel to consider it as a lead in their investigation of cases as the one that caused untold embarrassment to NAN and Channels Television. Governments, businesses and organisations in Nigeria must wake up to this new wave of crime.