Photo credit:  @0x7678 Twitter

Photo credit:
@0x7678 Twitter

The 2nd Hackon conference took place on Friday 31, 2015 at the iHub Nairobi. The chief guest was Professor Bitange Ndemo, who opened by encouraging participants to embrace technology, even as we look for ways to protect our online resources.

The Africa Hackon Conference is a yearly cyber-security conference which brings together software developers, hackers and people with interest in technology, to discuss issues surrounding cyber security.

The conference brought to light the fact that we are not entirely safe online, especially in public hotspots. Hackers are particularly attracted to devices that use a lot of data. They then create a man in the middle attack (MITM). The attack involves intercepting messages and sending spam to your inbox.

This from a layman perspective could be the reason why you get so many calls, messages and emails from people you don’t know. I have always been skeptical about free Wi-Fi especially in matatus. Today I got my question answered. Bright Gameli, one of the AfricaHackon team members demonstrated how if a hacker happens to be logged in to the same network, and they spot your device, they can actually see everything you type on your device.

Does that mean we avoid cyber cafes and public hotspots? We may not be able to entirely do that. We however can mitigate attacks by switching off your Wi-Fi when you are not using it. This is because your device automatically tries to connect to the networks you have previously connected to.

Another mitigation measure is avoiding unnecessary downloads of APKs (Android Application Package)- Applications that run on Android devices. Some of these applications are intrusive because they ask you for access into your different accounts. Other applications to be wary of are those that help you manage your passwords. They are just a way of giving away your passwords to hackers.

What shocked me was the session by Jade Solomon on the safety of credit cards and ATM cards. He showed us in a hilarious session how hackers can scan cards even when they are inside your bags or wallets. He then showed us how they can access the transaction history and the card holder’s details. Hackers then call you pretending to be customer care agents, with your bank details asking you for the details that would give them access to your money.

I have received calls of this nature, twice asking me for my ID number. I was lucky because I became suspicious of the call and told the callers that I would rather visit the customer care center. My response was followed by threats of disconnection of my line. This just goes to say that hackers read from the same script and convince the gullible.

A safety measure that was revealed at the conference is covering your ATM, Master cards and credit cards using metallic foil paper. We also got to learn that you can get metallic card holders. These measures help to distort the signals received by the scanners. There are downloadable applications on the play store that allow hackers to scan cards.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference. It provided an eye opener to the tech guys and likewise to the not so tech like me. Though the sessions I seemed to be floating, due to the jargon used by the experts, but I came out with a lot of insights. This is thanks to the many programmers that were there and willing to answer my many questions.