Universities Topping List of Student ‘Millionaire’ Hackers

  • On October 23, a letter addressed ‘to whom it may concern’ detailed a resolution by an anonymous group of students to siphon millions from banks via hacking.

    The letter came a day after 2 students from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) were arraigned in court and charged with stealing Ksh25 million from a local bank.

    The prosecutor added that the 2 were also in the process of transferring Ksh190 million when the authorities pounced.

    “It is not something that we want to do, but we are quickly running out of viable options. If they continue employing people based on nepotism and tribalism leaving most of us qualified jobless, we may have no option but to remind them that they are getting it wrong,” the anonymous letter reads in part.

    JKUAT Juja Campus.
    JKUAT Juja Campus.

    However, one of the accused informed the court that he was actually the one who informed the bank about his loot and pointed out the gaps in their system that could be exploited by hackers.

    Similar instances in which banks have reported losses running in the hundreds of millions have been on the rise over the last few years.

    “There are an estimated 3,000 cyber-crime incidences reported in Kenya every month. Internet-based crimes range from bank fraud and illegal money transfers to the compromise of personal data,” reads an excerpt from the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) crime report 2020.

    In the middle of the cyber crime rise in the country, it is impossible to ignore a common thread in most of the highly publicized cases.

    At least 80% of the reported cases involve a student enrolled in the university known for its exceptional Information Technology and Computer Science courses.

    In past interviews, lecturers responsible for the highly sought after courses have explained that some of the students who pass through their classes are simply gifted, and that whether they used their skills for good is something that can be engineered.

    A man working using a laptop. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, working from home is the new normal
    File image of an individual using a laptop

    “Most of them are just frustrated looking for jobs and desperately in need of money. I believe that given the opportunity these young men and women can be a force for good in the cyber world,” one lecturer stated.

    Juja has become a sort of cybercrime capital where the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) often conduct raids.

    In May, the DCI sleuths arrested two JKUAT students and a software developer at a local bank at the heart of Juja.

    The 3 electronic fraud suspects were found in possession of 400 sim cards, 8 national ID cards, 2 laptops, and 4 mobile phones.

    A year earlier, 5 other suspects had been arrested in the same area and found in possession of over 40,000 sim cards.

    In August, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) revealed that Kenya was on its radar after they unearthed a global crime syndicate operating within the country.

    According to the FBI, this group of elite hackers has been targeting enterprises nationally and beyond through phishing – specifically Business Email Compromise. This is where they impersonate corporate email accounts to defraud companies into sending money or other sensitive data to the attacker’s account.

    For example, Fairfax County Government in Washington DC lost $500,000 by following instructions they believed came from a local tech company instructing them to re-route their next payment to a new account.

    The FBI revealed that the money ended up in Nairobi.

    According to Cyberoam’s report, Kenya ranks in the top 5 across Africa when it comes to student hackers.

    To paint a picture of just how established the new threat is, the Communications Authority of Kenya revealed that Kenyan firms had been hit by  37.1 million cyber-attacks between October-December 2019, alone.

    Last year, a report by a consultancy firm (Serianu) revealed that cybersecurity threats cost the country Ksh29.5 billion in 2019.

    With at least 80% of such crimes linked to students, the presence of covert DCI operatives and FBI investigations into the growing threat emanating from the same institutions can be explained.

    Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters along Kiambu Road
    Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters along Kiambu Road
    Simon Kiragu

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