Public Wi-Fi most welcome in Kenya but there is a caveat

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By Antony Mutunga

“Information flow is what the Internet is about. Information sharing is power. If you don’t share your ideas, smart people can’t do anything about them, and you’ll remain anonymous and powerless” – Vinton Gray Cerf

The Internet has helped a lot of people, especially in developing countries, to get out of poverty. Because information is readily available, when people access the Internet, they are able to better their lives in one way or the other. However, the big question has been how to increase the penetration of the Internet into rural and remote areas.

This is where firms like Facebook have come in, creating projects like internet.org, which includes the infamous free basics that offers free access to basic websites. Facebook has also managed to partner up with various service providers and local entrepreneurs to offer affordable Internet to remote areas, expanding connectivity around the globe.

In March, Facebook partnered up with local Internet service provider, Surf and Internet Solutions, to launch Express Wi-Fi in Kenya. Facebook established express Wi-Fi, which is an affordable and fast public Wi-Fi hotspot service, with the aim of connecting the 3.5 billion people in the world without access to the Internet. The Express Wi-Fi hotspots have so far been rolled out in different areas around Nairobi – including Gachie, Wangige, Thika, Mlolongo, Kiserian, Kiambu, and in major towns like Mombasa and Kisumu. But this is only the first phase and it should reach the whole country in time.

Mark Summer, CEO of Surf, during the launch of Express Wi-Fi said, “We’re excited to rollout Express Wi-Fi widely to Kenyan consumers. We are honoured to be working with Facebook, who power Express Wi-Fi, and Internet Solutions, who is our partner enabling us to expand rapidly throughout Kenya.”

The partners’ mission is to offer Kenyans affordable and reliable Internet services by hosting the hotspots where they gather, work, eat and live for example railway stations, restaurants and mobile money agents.

In order to use Express Wi-Fi, one has to first visit their site, https://surf.expresswifi.com/. Once there, one will be asked to enter mobile number, regardless of the mobile service provider, and in return Express Wi-Fi sends an SMS with a PIN that the site requires before moving to the next step – this requires one to give one’s names, which, after typing in, gives one the data plans as offered by Express Wi-Fi.

To attract more people to the product, Facebook, in conjunction with Surf and Internet Solutions, decided to give consumers 100MB every day free during the first 10 days they use the Wi-Fi hotspot. One needs to be within a range of 250meters to have access to the Internet. After the 10 days, one will then have to recharge at selected areas, where the network is available, at an affordable rate ranging from 40MB daily at Sh10 to 3GB monthly at Sh500.

Express WI-FI will help those in rural and remote areas to access the Internet, meaning more people will have access to acres of range of information. This will assist many people to better their lives, for example the youth, who are most affected by unemployment, who can then get ideas and venture into entrepreneurship.

Kenya, regarded as one of the leading technological hubs in Africa, was chosen as the fourth country in the world to roll out Express Wi-Fi. However, regardless of its position in the tech arena, country faces a big problem when it comes to cyber security. As a result, the addition of Express Wi-Fi to the market may not be all rosy, as it is not without its flaws.

Its availability (Wi-Fi) to the public makes it a bit risky, as the users share the network connection. This makes it easy for a person on the same network to steal another person’s username and password or even snoop around and see what one is doing. In Kenya, where most people tend not to secure themselves whenever online, this is risky, especially with the rise of people transacting and banking online. It gives hackers an opportunity to put up malicious hotspots and be able to get ones important information, for example, credentials or bank details, that they can use to steal ones hard-earned cash. It also enables hackers to target small businesses that use the Wi-Fi hotspots and be able to interfere with their day-to-day operations.

If one is not secure, the shared connection put one’s computer or smartphone at risk, making it easy for the hackers to have access to one’s personal files, for example, photos and documents. Hackers can then use this information to extort money from victims.
Besides the opportunity to snoop, hackers are also able to see ones web traffic, being able to see what websites one visits. However, apart from hackers, organisations stand to benefit the most from snooping, as they are able gather third-party data. This enables them to monitor and identify what consumers want, as well as get notice of other consumers close-by.

There is need for users to secure themselves whenever online, especially in Kenya there is need to educate awareness to the people so that they know of the dangers of not securing their gadgets whenever online using a public Wi-Fi. Users should ensure that they do not access important websites, for example online banking, on a public network, to minimise any cases of theft. There is also need to update the security of their devices through security settings to ensure that none of the users can get to this information.

The government of Kenya took a great step to increase cyber security by approving the Computer and Cybercrime Bill, 2016 into law. It will help by monitoring, controlling and managing cybercrime in the country, which in 2016 caused various institutions to lose Sh17.1billion. Express Wi-Fi is a great opportunity to the people of Kenya, as they will have access to a lot of information, but there is a need for caution to ensure that it does not end up doing more harm than its intended good.  ^

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