Kenyan firms hit by ransomware cyber attack, to get worse

Serianu Limited CEO William Makatiani: . FILE PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

What you need to know:

  • 80 per cent of Kenyan firms run on Microsoft's Windows, which is the malware’s target.
  • Local companies and individuals are extremely vulnerable, according to IT consulting firm Serianu.
  • Expert reckons that more Kenyan firms will be targeted this week, but says tracking attacks will be hard as they shy away from publicising vulnerabilities.

At least 5 companies in Kenya have been hit by the WannaCry virus attack that has affected over 300,000 users globally amid warnings by tech experts underlining the vulnerability of local firms.

It is expected to get worse as about 80 per cent of the country's large and small organisations' back-up systems run on Microsoft Windows, which is the malware’s target.

This is according to IT services and business consulting firm Serianu, which declined to name the Kenyan firms hit by what tech analysts are describing the largest ransomware attack in history.

“Almost 80 per cent of our servers are based on Windows, we have another almost 16 per cent on unix or the Linux variant and then you have other operating systems … we are very vulnerable,” Serianu CEO William Makatiani said Monday.

The IT firm's boss reckons that more companies are likely to be targeted this week, but says tracking the same may present a challenge as many businesses are likely to shy away from publicising these attacks.

“The question is, are they going to report? In Europe, you are required by the government to report these cases, here [in Kenya], unless someone calls you and tells you 'I have seen this or the other', people won’t know,” he said.

Financial sector targeted

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru had warned on Saturday that Kenyan banks were among institutions targeted in the large-scale attack against computers worldwide that began on Friday.

“Some financial institutions have faced some of these attempted challenges from Friday,” Mr Mucheru had told the Nation last week without disclosing further details.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) issued an alert on the ransomware over the weekend, alerting individuals and firms on what the malware is, how it works, and how to avoid being compromised.

This latest malicious software encrypts systems and denies the owner access to them, while the perpetrators demand payment using Bitcoin to allow access.

“Individuals and organisations are discouraged from paying the ransom, as this does not guarantee access will be restored.” CA director general Francis Wangusi urged in his statement.

The unprecedented cyber-attack has since Friday immobilised systems of banks, hospitals and government agencies in dozens of countries.

The latest threat is even more worrying given that latest official ICT data from CA and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics revealed that most State agencies lack mechanisms to detect intruders into their networks.

On the private sector side, while most businesses are eager to download antivirus software, only 15 per cent have systems in place to detect intruders.

Mr Makatiani says that for one to avoid being hit and unwittingly being used as an agent, they should “backup data in flash drives, cloud nor otherwise; have an up-to-date, working antivirus; patch their system; not connect to networks they are not in control of and not click unknown links.”

Serianu estimates that in 2016 alone, Kenya lost about Sh18 billion to hackers who siphoned from or blackmailed businesses and individuals.

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