Mobile phones and cyber exposure: Reviving big power threats

13Jan 2019
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Mobile phones and cyber exposure: Reviving big power threats

TECHNOLOGICAL development is leading to a Frankenstein world faster than anyone anticipated perhaps 10 years ago, if not 20 years hence, as technology was already more than awesome by the time former US President Barack Obama was taking office early 2009.

Chroniclers say US espionage agencies unraveled the mystery of the whereabouts of the world's most wanted person at that time, Osama bin Laden, by tracking down the phone calls of his errands man, conveying his letters.

Despite that he was taking precautions of an elaborate character, the CIA tracked his abode, and then saw a runner, doing exercises around the mansion.

That in sum means that anyone using a mobile phone can instantly be located, but there are outgrowths of this overexposure, namely social media databases, electronic banking and the rest.

The real danger out there isn't membership and being tracked as most mobile phone users aren't criminals or fearing anyone in particular but hacking, as people use mobile phones for all intents and purposes.

Everything can easily be hacked into, whether it is e-mail, phone conversation or messages, and the material can be of much use to some unsavory third parties, especially when such hacking involves precisions about government business.

At present there is a big outcry in the United States not just about trade imbalances but the potentially nefarious situation of using Chinese made Huawei mobile phones, competing with the best in the world and some authorities affirm the company leads in 5G development and innovation.

US President Donald Trump has banned the use of that phone model in US military installations inside and outside the country, as it exposes its users to data gathering by the company's operators back home.

Other models are also likely to have similar links, that data can be gathered if one wishes to do so, as with Cambridge Analytica scandals.

That means countries like Tanzania without the sophisticated counter-espionage capacity of noticing bugs in mobile phones or internet service provision that can be bugged even without the specific provider being aware of it, just by staff infiltration, are in a difficult position.

But as they say in Swahili, 'the death of many is a marriage festival,' which means it is all just happiness until the crunch falls, and there is no one to blame. Germany has lately dropped a probe involving a US spy agency (National Security Agency) suspected of bugging the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel to learn of what close advisers were reporting, or knew.

Whether you have a US or Chinese company to put up the security system it is likely to be interested in the data, by engaging a consultant in the program while the layout for the communications system is being put up.

It is what they say is standing between a rock and a hard place. It is a vexing sort of reality but it means constant inspection is needed in governmental communications, security agencies at first, to check risks.

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