Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Features of the week:
President’s rumoured resignation: Role of ICT
Penultimate Tuesday, Nigeria and the world was awash with the hoax that President Yar’Adua would soon resign based on health ground. REMMY NWEKE examines the role of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the saga.
FOR an average Nigerian the news of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health is fast becoming stale and invariably a story all Nigerians have to live with until his tenure is over in 2011. This is because in the midst of his political campaign that led to his emergence, Nigerians were treated to a drama when the issue was raised by concerned citizens that Yar’Adua was sick and had been flown abroad for treatment, even as speculation was that probably he had died.
This forced the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo to call Yar’Adua through the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) during a campaign rally which was televised live on major television stations nationwide; where he asked him ‘Umaru, they say you’re dead, are you dead?’ Of course he was amazed to hear that and laughed it over.
Contentious news flash:
Barely a year and three months after he assumed office, another chapter was opened with the purported ‘News Flash’ from the government-owned News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that Mr. President would resign due to his health conditions. Just a fortnight after his Lesser Hajj saga turned sour with alleged surgical operation in Saudi Arabia among others.
NAN’s account on the contentious news flash was that the agency had nothing to do with the story, according the Managing Director, Mrs. Oluremi Oyo. She also alleged that mischief makers may have broken into the NAN’s content management system (CMS) to access its list of clientele and used this to send out false ‘news flash’ flawed with massive grammatical errors. She traced the mail to:
email@example.com, with obvious address in Abidjan, Cotd D’Ivoire.
The purported news flash read, “President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua may resign after carbonate reshuffle, on health ground” was sent out to both local and foreign media including the AFP and Lagos-based Channels Television, which eventually paid the price with license suspension for over 72 hours by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), thereby attracting outright condemnation from stakeholders.
Soon after NAN denied the authorship of the report, Special Adviser to the President on Communication, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, equally said there was no truth in the report.
Oyo, additionally, revealed the resting forthwith the two free electronic mail addresses used before now by NAN in its news distribution; firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and any other precisely from Google mail, Yahoo! mail or Hotmail.
“The only authentic address NAN will be using from now on is: firstname.lastname@example.org” a press statement from NAN by the Deputy Editor-in-chief, Abuja Metropolitan Desk, Alli Hakeem, read.
A member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was reported as saying that investigations had shown the report never emanated from NAN, although it was distributed to media organisations through the NAN feed.
Our source who asked for anonymity noted that the situation could be a security matter. Also, a source in NAN on grounds of anonymity claimed that the report could be the handiwork of hackers, because it did not conform to NAN’s method.
“The story was not edited, and it carried one by-line, which shows that a reporter just sent it. This does not happen in NAN for a reporter to just write a story and send. Even if you are the Editor-in-Chief, the story has to be seen by a second eye at least, and the name of the editor who saw the story must be included before it is sent,” our source explained.
The penultimate Tuesday’s incident was the second time a controversial report would be circulated through the NAN feed by alleged hackers. The first being when it was reported the NAN management had, while addressing workers, declared that the Court of Appeal would nullify the result of the presidential election.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security expert, Mr. Bruce Schneier stated in his book Secret and Lies that a hacker is someone who thinks outside the box, discarding the conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. “It’s someone who looks at the edge and wonders what’s beyond. It’s someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don’t follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity.”
Nowadays, there are various classes of hackers; from computer to mobile hackers to name a few. Whereas, encyclopedia, www.webopedia.com, described it as a jargon for a computer enthusiast, who enjoys learning programming languages and computer systems and could often be considered an expert on the subject matter. The term has since been reduced to more of derogatory than complimentary among professionals, even as the negative sense has been popularized to refer to individuals who gain unauthorized access to computer systems for the purpose of stealing and corrupting data. Hackers, on the other hand, argued that the proper term for such individuals is ‘cracker.’
NiRA condemns NAN over nannewsngr.com:
A body of Internet users and enthusiasts in the country charged with the management of the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), dot ng, the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA), while wishing President Yar’Adua a healthy tenure, condemned the obtaining of another foreign domain name by NAN, nannewsngr.com, saying its absurd and attributed the saga to be mainly a technology issue.
ccTLD is a country’s identity in the cyber space, just like .ng is for Nigeria, .uk is for the United Kingdom, .za is for South Africa among others.
NiRA via its president, Mr. Ndukwe Kalu condemned the option of a foreign domain, for any government agency let alone a critical one like NAN among others. He outlined four options that led to alleged cracking of NAN news management system, to include that someone broke into the system and authored as well as sent out the ‘news flash’; even as someone may have gotten the password of the NAN electronic mail (e-mail) address and news subscription list and capitalized on that to send out a mail.
Also, he said, that someone may have access to NAN news subscription mail list and send a mail to the list but changed the ‘from’ field to the NAN email address or finally, someone probably created an email address very close to the NAN email and used NAN news subscription list to send out mail.
“Now these are the only four means by which there could have been a breach and each had to do with technology with varying levels of sophistications,” he said, stressing though the outlined likelihood could be countered or blocked with the appropriate technology. He explained that for such CMS there are usually various roles and passwords, with the overall administrator having access to all areas.
“It is therefore pertinent that each role, username and password is very formidable especially in length and composition, with access for every role restricted. Also all this is assuming that infiltration of this type is external, it could be very much internal and an audit trail of activity would easily reveal this. So networks need to be protected,” he explained.
NiRA introduces ngCERT:
Kalu pointed out that ICT and particularly the deployment of dot ng, for instance, could immensely assist in managing such ‘information’ crisis in the future, especially with the ngCERT, which he described as crucial to national development as far as cyber space is concerned.
NiRA President further said that as matter of fact the group has taken relevant action to ensure that it does not reoccur, moreso if NAN has its domain name within the dot ng country code Top Level Domain, stressing that as regards .ng, NiRA plays a very key role in terms of identity and security.
“As for security we are putting together the ngCERT for Nigeria,” he said, elucidating that ngCERT is a place where network managers could share exploit details and work towards mitigating such attacks in the future.
Kalu who also is the chief executive of Amsco Telecoms Limited, affirmed that the contentious issue is a technology affair. “Yes, it is all about technology and the four means by which it is possible include through weak passwords, insider collusion, poor or nonexistent firewalls and access controls, could cause such a breach.”
He emphasized that on the issue of identity, that most people are fooled easily because the authentic web sites and electronic emails (e-mails) themselves are at best laughable, perceiving a situation where the fake e-mails and web addresses even look more authentic than the original.
Describing the new NAN domain as ridiculing Nigeria in the cyber space, Kalu gave another example with the UK-based British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), saying it has its domain hosted in UK as bbc.co.uk, and wondered why NAN would not apply to register nan.com.ng and stop all forms of speculation once and for all.
Two advantages of .ng:
Assuring on NiRA wherewithal to preserve security-wise any domain within its platform, he cited another instance with the website of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which is www.cenbank.org.
NiRA president insisted that government officials and agencies in the country, should desist from using dot com or any other foreign domain. “Both the new addresses of NAN and the current address of Central Bank are to say the least unfit for the institutions. This is what has made forgery thrive,” he said, drawing attention to the fact that NiRA has two key advantages to offer legitimate firms who want dot ng.
“First is that it is virgin and most if not all companies would get their names as it should be. No unneeded abbreviation. … Secondly for .ng we maintain a zero tolerance for cyber squatting,” Kalu asserted.
Wanted! Cybercrime Act:
Former officer, Directorate of Cyber crime at the presidency, Mr. Basil Udotai said in his reaction that it’s amazing and an evidence that Nigeria needs to urgently implement relevant security measures as hitherto canvassed by experts, which included the fast-tracking of the ICT policy currently undergoing upgrade and passing of the Cybercrime law which has lingered in the National Assembly.
“This is amazing story, and proof that if the country doesn’t take basic steps on information security around the tenets that we have recommended during the past years, this sort of things would continue to happen,” he cautioned.
As the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), global ICT regulator recently concluded an agreement with the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Terrorism (IMPACT) to operationalize Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) with state-of-the-art headquarters in Cyberjaya, Kuala Lumpur, with focus on strengthening core five areas, legal framework, technical measures, organizational structures, capacity building and international cooperation, the fact is that Nigeria has had enough lessons with the two incidents in NAN and it’s apt for the government and private sectors in the country to now pay attention to deployment of .ng domain names.
Moreso, recalling the cracking of Sarah Palin’s yahoomail; Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the United States 2008 election, at a time the contentious ‘news flash’ was being circulated.
Earlier the patronage of .ng began to receive adequate attentions, coupled with the passing of the updated ICT policy by the government and backed with the relevant regulations as in Cyber crime Act, then and only then, can Nigeria say, it has arrived in the cyber space, since that is the major platform of engagement at this era. Otherwise, Nigerians would remain strangers in this aspect of ICT planet, because once beaten, twice shy.
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