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High Data Costs a Factor in Mobile Insecurity in Africa

The transition from a feature phone to a smartphone, for many Africans, is characterised by mixed emotions. The ability to access rich content on a much clearer and probably larger screen can make the average mobile user drool. But then excitement usually turns to disappointment once the user goes online to access content and discovers high data charges for every application or site he or she visits.

The experience becomes grave when megabytes of data are swallowed up in minutes and tracking down free WiFi connections starts to become a treasure hunt.

In Kenya, 99% of internet traffic is accessed through the mobile phone. This has become an easier route to the internet since the mobile penetration rate has grown rapidly over the past few years. Safaricom, the biggest telecommunication company, with over 21 million subscribers, has seen substantial growth of its internet business. And this year the company made Kshs 9.31 billion (US$ 0.1 billion) from internet connections alone.

The average price for data in Kenya is Kshs1 (US$0.011) for one megabyte of data. Although, some telecom companies offer unlimited plans coupled with slower speeds. The price might seem high when using a feature phone, but users soon burn through the data bundles on a smartphone.

Some experts feel that this high cost of mobile phone data bundles, is a hindrance to the growing internet market. More so, the cost of data bundles has now put many Kenyans at risk from mobile phone insecurities.

Kaspersky Lab recently made public the findings of mobile insecurity in collaboration with INTERPOL. The report suggests that South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya have experienced notable levels of mobile phone breach.

“Among African countries Kaspersky Lab registered almost a similar number of mobile malware attacks in South Africa and in Nigeria, some less in Kenya,” the report said.

The report highlights the danger that Android users are exposed to. It suggests that one out of every five is at risk of cyber-attack.

According to Bethwel Opil, Channel Sales Manager for East Africa at Kaspersky Lab, high cost of data is one of the components that are increasing the mobile phone insecurities in Africa.

“People don’t download updates. The reason is - it requires a lot of data bundles,” Opil told IDG Connect.

“Whenever you see updates from an application know that they are patching on some vulnerabilities in their application code. The moment you don’t do the update is simply means that you are vulnerable to malware,” Opil warned.

For most smartphones, users can opt to update their applications through WiFi and save the mobile data bundles for lighter tasks. But this is no option for the majority of Kenyans who do not have easy access to WiFi hotspots.

Huge data spend is also embedded in applications running in smartphones in the background. The lack of this information was witnessed when a local channel aired a story where mobile subscribers complained that their mobile data bundles and airtime credit disappear even without using them.

Opil blames the telecommunication companies for not telling their consumers that there are some applications that run in the background that could eat up the data bundles bought.

“They should educate people and tell them how the bundles are going to be used,” Opil said. “It is in the interest of both parties to educate people on the use of their bundles.”

If consumers find themselves in a position where they feel the cost of data is high, they will not buy as much or they will turn off the updates for most apps, Opil said. This in turn contributes to the mobile phone insecurity.

For Opil, yet another worrying trend is that awareness levels for mobile phone insecurities are quite minimal. Although there are not many cited cases of mobile insecurity, once the continent reaches a certain threshold in regards to smartphones, then the insecurities will be felt.

“The awareness level is still low in Africa and East Africa mainly. I would attribute [this] to the fact that most of our end users usually [only] take issues seriously once they have been attacked.” Opil said that the hacking of the Kenya Defence Force Twitter handle and other government websites has generated a discussion on how to secure online accounts.

“When there will be a real hit where people will see malware being spread on mobile phones rapidly, then we will see awareness levels on mobile security rise,” Opil added.

 

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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