Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Society | Face to face with Kifeesi: A tale of one stolen phone!

"Ku Wilson osanga banyumye, naye nga basiba kiwaani" (On Wilson Road, you’ll oft find them all neat and spruced up, but theirs is a life of deceitful trickery), sang Bobi Wine in "Kiwaani", arguably one of his greatest hits, in 2007. 

10 years since I first came across this jargon, I find myself silently humming to the song on one tepid morning, right in the middle of our beloved metropolis.

The subject of my expedition is an iPhone, a pricey handset that had been snatched from a Caucasian colleague during peak traffic hours on Kiira Road the previous evening, before taking off on a boda. 

The assailant is a dark-skinned slender male with bloodshot eyes, probably between late 20s to 30 years of age, that we shall call X. 

Now, iPhones come with that security feature that allows the user to report the phone as having been stolen or lost.  It then flashes a message on the screen, notifying whoever is in possession of the phone to return it to its rightful owner (I am still Android, unfortunately, so I don’t exactly know how this works). 

X, having possibly tried to unlock the phone in vain, chooses to call the contact. But his rather "charitable" act won’t come cheap. He wants a ransom of sorts, a cool 500K UGX before he can release his catch. A deal is struck, and the phone is to be collected from Pioneer Mall.

My Caucasian buddy is not familiar with this part of town, and that is how an apprehensive me gets sucked into the recovery process (you just do not go to meet a guy who violently wrestled away your phone, in Ugandan speak, "fwaa"). 

Minutes later, we set off for the mission. 

Having mentioned Pioneer Mall, X now asks the person on the other end to find him at Wilson Street before changing to Mutaasa Kafeero at the third time of interaction. 

It’s at Mutaasa Kafeero that a light-skinned, neat and burly chap accosts us, inquiring to confirm if we had indeed come for the phone. 

We had seen him skirt around the initially agreed meeting point but hadn’t really taken note of his movements, for he could have been just another City dweller scouring for his next meal. 

"I have worked with security circles before", says he, switching to a Nkore dialect once we are done with the pleasantries. "Once in a while, I run a few errands for police when they need me", he adds, before the topic changes to our subject of interest. 

It was at this point that he says he is going to hand over the phone, but not in the presence of my buddy. 


What if he chooses some dungeon as the handover venue before asking for more ransom, this time from my own family? I ponder. 

More nerves.

I then wear that veneer I usually assume when I am not sure of the person I am talking to. "So, boss, where do we go from here", I ask. It would be the next street, just below Wilson (the name skips my mind). Like a normal business transaction, he checks the ransom and confirms the amount.

He beckons one of his boys, another slender guy who emerges from the opposite side of the street, left hand seemingly girded. 

A couple of interactions between the two, later, I have the phone in my hands before handing over the ransom. 

"We sometimes help you people to recover your phones – if you cooperate", he says. "I have a group of boys running this, and most times I have no idea where the phone could have been stolen from. The other day we helped some Mzungu woman get her S6 back", he adds.

It turns out that the phone theft business is run by a racket of well organized gangs who choose what to do with every new acquisition, depending on the brand, perceived value or the victim’s attitude. 

If you show up with some security detail of sorts because you want to show your might, chances are that you’ll never meet these gangs or their representative. So you simply forget the phone. 

By changing location, the guys are actually monitoring your movements, just so they are sure you are either alone or they are safe. 

"How about the other items in the wallet – the Credit Cards et al", I ask. He says he would help track them, trying not to show assurance he knows where they were being kept. 

I pretend to believe him. Contacts are exchanged. "0752 xxx xxx. You can call me Hashim London", he signs off before we go separate ways. 

Barely 24 hours later, "Hashim" calls. He has traced the items. And he wants an additional 200K UGX!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tech | Ransomware: Technology’s most devastating cyber-attack, and one man’s accidental break

If you’ve been following recent happenings in the technology world, you must have come across this. You must have heard about some "virus" that attacked and disabled health systems in the UK, leaving thousands of patients stuck in limbo.

Running under the name "WanaCrypt0r" or WannaCry, the ransomware demanded that users pay $300 worth of cryptocurrency Bitcoin to retrieve their files, though it warned that the “payment would be raised” after a certain amount of time.

The orchestraters of this malware were creative enough to craft translations of this ransom message in at least 28 languages.

Ransonmware, for the uninitiated, is a type of malicious software that carries out the (cryptoviral) extortion attack from cryptovirology that blocks access to data until a ransom is paid.

It displays a message requesting payment before it can be unlocked. Simple ransomware may lock the system in a manner that is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse (Wikipedia).

Around the globe, Wannacry continued to wreak havoc in many a system, harvesting estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

This was until one security expert inadvertently stopped the malware in its tracks. The tech world’s latest hero, a 22-year old reclusive security specialist who chooses to hide behind his tech blog – Malware Tech – is as a security researcher at Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic.

Malware Tech studied the malware’s behavior and noticed that as soon as it installed itself on a new machine, it tried to send a message to an unregistered Internet address, or domain name.

The malware contained code that pinged an unregistered web address, and if it didn't get back a message saying the address didn't exist, it would turn itself off.

The bulk of his work was done as soon as he had identified this. His next step was to register the domain and see what would follow. Little did he know that by doing so, he had inadvertently stopped what is believed to be one of the world’s biggest cyber-attacks in recent times.

Computers that were already infected with the ransomware weren't protected but the ransomware stopped spreading except in isolated systems, said Craig Williams, a senior technical leader at American security company Cisco Talos.

Are we out of the woods yet?

Not yet, Malware Tech warns. “This is not over. The attackers will realize how we stopped it. they’ll change the code and then they’ll start again. Enable windows update, update and then reboot”, he adds.

Obviously the guys that did the first code aren’t - in Ugandan speak - “sleeping”. One slight modification of the code and the world’s rear will be on fire again.

The folks at Microsoft certainly foresaw this when they released a security patch a couple of months back – March 14, 2017 – to be exact, though computers that have not installed the security update remain vulnerable.

I had stubbornly procrastinated patching my Windows (because I was trying to avoid the several restarts that come with these), but I have finally been cornered after the VPNs I use got locked until I have the required fixes in place.

Is your system patched and protected? 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lifestyle | Masappe

Just how this word found its way into the already rich Luganda slang vocabulary remains anybody’s guess. But with the proliferation of Congolese in this dusty city of ours, one probably needs to look no further.

Deriving its origins from the French abbreviation SAPE – Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (literally: Society of fun-lovers (Ambiance-Makers) and Elegant People), it has come to be associated with anything showbiz, or simply anything that reveals one’s snobbish side. 

Many colonial decades ago in what we know today as Congo Brazzaville and DRC, privileged young men found employment in homes of colonial chiefs as house boys, valets and butlers, and were awed by their masters’ attire and way of life.

The impression was so lasting that some would end up opting to starve and be paid in clothing instead, just so they could acquire the swag that came with looking cool.

Catching the bug next was a good chunk of the then emerging intellectual elite as office clerks, messengers and young civil servants jumped onto the bandwagon, sacrificing portions of their salaries to own souvenirs of expensive clothing.

Today, the most conspicuous Sapeurs we know are Congolese artistes, many of whose dressing styles have gone on to trigger a wave of cultural influence across the continent. The spelling and usage has since evolved to read what we now know as "masappe/amasappe".

So, the next time someone says "Olina amasappe", just know you’ve have been branded a poser.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Commentary | Issa Hayatou hungers for more

Power corrupts, they say. But someone should probably do a study on this psychological disorder that appears to afflict many an African leader.

Having successfully negotiated his way round the CAF statute that bars officials from serving past 70, the Cameroonian now has the green light to seek a re-election that could see him extend his reign to 32 years, having been at the helm of African football since 1988.

That he needs a monthly trip to France for dialysis treatment (he underwent a kidney transplant in 2015) should be reason enough for him to take a break and enjoy some of that fortune he’s built over the past 28 years.

Even if he hadn’t (which is unlikely), he should be having a handsome commission off that $1 billion CAF broadcast deal that he helped sell to French media company Lagardère Sports, using his son as a proxy (the firm would later charge an arm and a leg to any country that wished to relay the tournament, which is partly why UBC couldn’t afford the service).

His most recent victory in 2013 had been won at a canter (after – reportedly – buying his way to victory). But 2017 promises to present him his toughest challenge.

Criticism and opposition appears to spring from all corners, from soccer luminaries of yesteryears like Ghana’s Abedi Pele to FAs like Nigeria, as well as regional soccer bodies like COSAFA. 

Still stuck in no man’s land is CECAFA (no surprises, there), who are yet to decide whether they either want to see the light or blindly go for "No Change".

The biggest challenge to Hayatou’s throne comes in the name of Ahmad Ahmad, the Madagascar FA boss who shows no signs of withering to his machinations.

The latest to join the "Hayatou Out" brigade is Souleiman Hassan Waberi, the Djibouti FA chief. Weberi hopes to have the rest of the CECAFA members on his side.

But FUFA’s Moses Magogo insists theirs remains a secret vote – which most definitely means he will be going with whoever greases his palm better. We can only wait and watch the space.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tribute | Fare thee well, Bonney Katatumba

“Katatumba Academy /
Is the School for you and me / “

Thus went a Radio Uganda jingle for Katatumba Academy, back in the day, circa 1997. This was one of the several ventures that fallen businessman Bonney Katatumba tried a hand at.

Katatumba Academy, back in the day, held annual quiz competitions for schools within Nkore region. Pleasurable moments like these usually gave us opportunity to mingle with students from other schools in semi-picnic setting, and (probably) set our hormones on a test drive.

Such galas were, generally, fun. People had fun and drank and ate to their fill. We did trivia and everything else that a good quiz competition should feature. Winners walked away with prizes, courtesy of the school’s management.

Colorful tales from peers who had been there before always beguiled a teenage me, making me look forward to the day I would have my chance.

It wasn’t to be long.

I still remember the day like it was yesterday. A five-man delegation of myself, John Mark Ssebunya, Amos Nuwagaba, Chris Mukwaba and a fifth guy (I forget the name) floored our competitors with a record margin, emerging top of the pack. Among the prize items we took were five crates of Coke (which was a still a big deal, then).

So we made a colorful return to our school with swag, each of us feeling like a young Jesus during that triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This was one of my earliest memories about Bonney Katatumba. Today, the good old businessman succumbed to a combination of pneumonia and Asthma in what should be a sad day for anyone who knew him, and/or had interacted with him on one way or another.

Since condolences to the bereaved family. We grieve with you. And may the good lord comfort you during this difficult moment.

Rest thee well, Bonney.