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Uganda Hotspots: What you need to know

Friday July 8, 2011

THE advent of android powered phones and the abolition of taxes on computer equipment has enabled a number of students at Ugandan universities to own wireless enabled devices.

While this development is a blessing, these devices need to be in the hands of cautious users to make both the most of the wireless learning experience and also to maintain their security while browsing the internet.

Hackers have been known to access user information and bring down networks because of a lax on the side of the end user and not the network administrators.

Johnson Mwebaze, the head of ICT services support at Makerere University said there was no immediate danger posed for Android enabled phones but they are a potential target because they do not show when the phone is connected to an ad-hoc network.

Laptops on the other hand could easily be taken over by machine to machine networks and with the Windows 7 operating system; one can easily set up a Soft Access Point on the machine.

“He can therefore share network access with an unauthorised user or can analyse all packets sent over the network through his soft access point,” said Mwebaze.
The attacks in Uganda are negligible but with the increase in internet speeds those hackers are likely to up their game, he says.

However, if someone were to link up with your wireless enabled phone they would need to have both your phone and a computer to do so.

“For that to happen you need to access your device using your administration password and change the Wi-Fi configuration file in order to access the ad-hoc network,” said Mwebaze.
He also emphasised the need for the user to be very careful with the way they connected to free and public access points.

Ali Ndiwalana, the End User Support Manager at Makerere University’s Directorate of ICT said issues to do with the user’s safety while browsing the internet start with the basics.
“Ensure you have an antivirus with up-to-date virus definition files. Ensure that you have a firewall installed and correctly configured to stop people or software from accessing your device unless authorised,” he says.

He adds that as a habit, they encourage their students to always look out for secure connections like those run over HTTPS wherever possible.
“Never log into any web service that does not encrypt your credentials as a minimum. If they have secure access like HTTPS instead of plain HTTP, always go for that,” said Ndiwalana.

“I would avoid using services that need me to supply sensitive information when using a public hotspot. For example, I would not login to my online banking application to DFCU or other local bank over a public hotspot,” he explained.

A number of hotspots installed at institutions of higher learning for instance are secured and in the case of Makerere University and Uganda Christian University, UCU), are separate from the wired networks.

The reason for this is
security

“From the wireless network, you can access web-based services provided by MUK, but you cannot login or access back end systems at the moment,” explained Ndiwalana.

At UCU, students are required to register their computers with the university’s computing department before they can access the wireless internet which is also on a different platform from the wired network, said Grace Iga, UCU’s webmaster.
“The reason for this is to get the computer’s MAC address and then allow the network to grant access to this computer because it is easier to protect access to the network while using these addresses,” he said.

Presently in Uganda hotspots are synonymous with upscale restaurants and hotels, the airport and educational institutions among others.

At institutions of higher learning, for instance hotspots have done more good than harm; they have for instance saved the universities from stocking up on computers for students labs and instead pay attention to connectivity at halls of residence.

“Previously when the faculties closed their doors in the evening, so did the labs. Then all our expensive bandwidth would sit idle until the next morning,” said Ndiwalana.
He added that: “Now they practically work through the night.”
When put to good use, hotspots can deter the idle minded from developing bad intentions since there is always something new to learn, now with the popularisation of handheld devices, hotspots should also be opened up at numerous locations.

By Arthur Oyako: The New Vision Newspaper

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