After attacks, Kenya takes 100 government websites offline

A fragmented approach to site management and quality assurance has resulted in inefficiency and security holes

After a month of embarrassing hacking attacks against government social media accounts and websites, the Kenya ICT Authority has taken about a hundred government sites offline for development and centralized hosting.

Previously, the ICTA's role within government was merely advisory. It was consulted on hardware, software and developer qualification issues, but was not involved in setting standards, ensuring security or quality assurance. The ICTA also did not have an inventory of government ICT implementations, and when the social media accounts were hacked, it was not clear who was the custodian of log-ins and passwords.

Since the attacks last month, however, the ICTA has been given more power to work with government agencies and help manage the sites.

"We conducted an audit of government websites and it revealed that in their present state, many of the government websites do not conform to the standards and are not secure," said Victor Kyalo, Acting CEO at the ICTA. "It has become necessary to upgrade the hosting environment, reorient the websites to approved standards and train officers on developing and maintaining the websites."

Sites are set to open later this week, according to report. However, no one in government has acknowledged that there is a shortage of personnel involved in information security, intrusion detection and cyber security. Some of the websites and servers are said to have been left in default settings, giving easy hacking opportunities to local and international hackers.

"The government needs to accept that there is insufficient qualified capacity within its ranks," said Tyrus Kamau, an independent security expert. "They need to embrace a deliberate hands-on approach by empowering those within with requisite practical skills."

Government ICT officers in the various ministries, meanwhile, have not had warm relations with the local Information security community. The ICT Authority is attempting to mend relationships by involving the community.

"There's a really frosty relationship with some government institutions when it comes to working with the Infosec community because they feel the community is exposing their incompetence," added Kamau. "However, ICTA is working with local security experts and we hope other government institutions can give necessary support."

The government has had a complicated procurement practice, where each ministry buys its own hardware, software and contracts directly with developers. In some of cases, coordination between ministries would save the government money. Corrupt practices and questionable deals, however, have gone hand-in-hand with ministries insisting on using their own suppliers. This has also led to a fragmentation of quality among government sites.

"Consequences need to be felt for the recklessness displayed within the last couple of months; how many commitments have been made and broken? If there's a recurrent cyber security breach, it simply means we have the wrong people doing the wrong jobs," Kamau said.

Kyalo said that the ICTA is done talking about what it will do to address cyber-security challenges, adding that he will first implement the strategy and the engage the community with results. The websites have been moved to the Kenya Education Network (KENET) hosting infrastructure. KENET in the ISP for all higher education institutions in the country, providing bandwidth and network support.

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