African spies aiding theft of intellectual property

February 9, 2017

Since the end of second world war, intelligence apparatus are known to be untouchable and ruthless organisations whose employees are paid by tax payers money but operate with impunity that will put African dictators to shame. Thanks to globalisation, African spies are now being used to steal intellectual property from companies and pass it over to competitors. In some well documented cases, with one as recent as 4th February 2017, couple of organisations operating in two African countries have alleged to have received unlawfully gain of their Internet Protocols. As a coder, I know for free that spies are there to protect socially, economically and politically and therefore, we shouldn’t live under illusion that if a state want to gather information on us we can stop it. After all, there’s nothing called privacy.I will explain that shortly. Back to how spies are aiding theft of intellectual property, a friend of mine working on undisclosed African country sought my help few days ago after realising his block chain based financial technology solution demo device has been compromised. Without going to details of that specific case, it is very clear that the interlinked relationship between private corporations and the intelligence agencies is allowing some corporations to benefit over others.There has been little in the way of such debate, nor much concern shown by the major political actors who call the shots in Africa. The issues raised on those organisation’s being under surveillance, now on the unprecedented scale in African countries, are very concerning as they are operating at a much higher magnitude than many would think.

Recent data available shows there has been a high number of requests from Africa’s security agencies for user information from Internet Service Providers which indicates that the agencies are very active when it comes to surveillance of its own citizens.The most common avenues for mass surveillance in Africa include but not limited to law enforcement agencies which are utilising the drones for crime and political surveillance. Also some countries have existing automated number plate recognition system which takes continuous snapshots of car number plates which is supplemented by tracking cars.Informers although considered Orwellian by many, African countries have been encouraging citizens to inform on other citizens they suspect of breaking the law. Although it has cost so many informants lives over the years, African governments have been very successful in fighting economic crimes, gang crimes, social crimes among others.In one country where one of the organisation had its devices and systems compromised, there is incredible power of intelligence agencies and is know that databases are exponentially enhanced thanks to recent developments in mobile phone technology, Internet and other computer technologies.Another common way people are snooped is through private data in utility bills, voter registration, retail shopping, banking, travel, health and insurance among others that is directly linked to intelligence collected by state agencies where the value of data becomes massively enriched. Data collected by private or public organisations in Africa and utilised by security services also includes security agencies employing private contractors to monitor, collate, and report on public-ally accessible information about individuals and organisations on the Internet.

Many African business organisations such as shopping centres and banks now utilise CCTV which is also connected to surveillance centres managed and controlled by security agencies.These assets can be utilised by security organisations to track and monitor individuals. This is now being supplemented with systems which are widely available to help track smartphones of any make. This technology is already being used in many shopping centres across Sub Saharan Africa.In more robust African countries, numerous private databases which have detailed information like insurance records, tenancy history among others that detail individuals insured assets, bank records, and university records are all accessible to the security agencies.Then there are mobile phones that are used as a means to track people through inbuilt GPS on smartphones, triangulation, or through electronic data collectors designed to identify individual mobile phones in public places.Let no one lie to you, as long as you used a phone, your data is accessible to both state mafias and underworld criminals.Africans are also making purchase online which makes their history and movements easy to track through the use of mobile money payments and card purchases.The fact is that every piece of data in isolation can only provide a limited profile of any individual.From emails, mobile calls, places people go, and purchase history, in the context of other data collected has the latent potential to build up a profile on anybody. Data from social media also enhances these profiles greatly by adding thought and behaviour information. It’s the collection of small bits of information that can be collated into big pictures and that is why any intelligence agency in Africa or anywhere in the world can analyse a wide variety of data.Intelligence agencies in Africa have the power to search metadata without the individual’s knowledge or any sort of warrant.CCTV cameras are also being installed in many urban areas without the development of privacy policies on how they should be used. That is why its very easy to buy CCTV footage of shopping malls in Africa, offices and likes online. Recently on the dark web, there was plenty of sex footage involving senior figures which for ethical reasons I cannot give a hint.

Most African countries laws are outdated and are yet to catch up with the ability to collect data.Until the turn of century, most intelligence gathering in Africa was targeted monitoring of specific groups where persons of interest were identified for intensive surveillance and most of them were political dissenters as well as trade and workers unionists, human rights actors, ethnic community leaders, religious leaders, and even state officials were targets. Surveillance was undertaken by intelligence agencies, where operatives used electronic means for eavesdropping, keeping files on persons of interest, recording mainly unverified information.In some African countries spies have the power to monitor the entire internet with just one warrant, and whistleblowers face up many years’ jail for disclosing classified information.In some countries, anyone including journalists, bloggers and whistleblowers who discloses information that relates to a special intelligence operations faces serious consequences. In some countries, spies are so powerful such that any operation can be declared by an authorised intelligence officer.This also gives intelligence immunity for criminal and civil liability in certain circumstances.Many Africans human activists have for long argued they fear intelligence agencies abuse their power.Those who identify intelligence agents also face repercussions. Some African countries also have laws where spies are able to copy, delete, or modify the data held on any of the computers it has a warrant to monitor.

In such countries, spies are able to disrupt target computers, and can use third party computers not targeted in order to access a target computer.In all parts of Africa, internet providers are required to store metadata and for content of communications to be stored for unspecified period.Spies are able to use just one warrant to access numerous devices on a network and there is no artificial limit on the number of devices.It is well known how Western countries intelligence technology companies are selling state of the art surveillance technology to African countries amid concerns they are being used to target pro democracy campaigners and corruption activists.Such advanced surveillance tech solutions includes CCTV cameras that have facial recognition software to scan for persons of interest whether in the crowds or alone walking on the street. The rollout of such technology means a single camera is enough to monitors 800 people, allowing countrywide, real-time tracking of the population.Given African countries government’s well known record of targeting opposition and human rights defenders, Africans fear such technologies provide a sophisticated capture system where anyone can be recognised and intercepted on a scale which is unthinkable to many.From coder’s point of view, such systems are essential in helping people operating to be more effective more quickly, especially in urgent cases. In my view, there is no reason to worry if you are an innocent citizens but if you are a business man planning to venture in any new markets, remember local spies can fatally end your dreams by aiding your competitors as it happened recently with those bluds.

Contador Harrison