The Computer Society of Kenya

Since 1986


Tuesday October 20 2020

The weekend arrest in Taita-Taveta of a computer science expert Kenyan police claim is a spy for a western nation rekindled an espionage ring smashed six years ago in Nairobi.

Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss George Kinoti on Sunday said Archibald Mwandawiro, 52, who was arrested in Milondo in Wundanyi, “sends espionage materials to a country in the West”.

Mr Kinoti did not name the country. He said investigations had established that the widely travelled suspect is a computer science expert from a local university.

He was found with telecommunications gadgets similar to those found with foreigners at a house in Nairobi in 2014. The death of a Chinese man in a house fire in Runda that year exposed a suspected case of espionage.

A search of the seven-bedroom house revealed a high-tech cybercrime command centre containing several desks with telephone heads, computers linked to high-speed internet and screens in one of the rooms, in what authorities suspected was an espionage, money laundering and internet fraud ring.

77 foreigners

The centre was covertly operated by a group of 77 foreigners – 58 Chinese and 19 Taiwanese – who had extended their tour of the country. They were later extradited following government-to-government interventions.

Cyber experts at the time described the centre as capable of handling transactions worth billions of shillings through infiltration of bank accounts and a leading mobile banking system. Cash machines were also discovered in the raids.

All the rooms had their windows insulated by soundproof material to keep the noise inside and protect the hackers from prying eyes. Neighbours said when the fire started, the foreigners did not welcome their offer to help put it out.

They were also reported as spending their days indoors and only stepping out of the house at night to go shopping.

So volatile is the evolving nature of cybercrime that governments across the world are spending billions in training and equipping their installations with modern technology to avert its spread, even as experts warn that World War 3 might be fought via cyberspace.

Legal definition

The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act defines Cyber espionage as unlawfully and intentionally performing or authorising or allowing another person to gain access to critical data, critical database or a national critical information infrastructure or intercepting data from or within a critical database or a national critical information infrastructure with the intention to directly or indirectly benefit a foreign state against the Republic of Kenya.

It further states that persons found culpable of espionage are liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or a fine of Sh10 million or both.

Mr Kinoti revealed the suspect arrested on Sunday was being held at the Wundanyi police cells after his house was found with electronic devices used to intercept communication, access and transmit messages to unauthorised persons.

Mr Mwandawiro was also found with multiple GSM gateways inserted with hundreds of Sim cards, four internet routers, an electric inverter, 83 Airtel Sim cards, 76 Safaricom Sim cards, 25 modems, a HP laptop, a Huawei mobile phone and a phone charging hub, among other items.

Mr Kinoti said the widely traveled suspect held at Wundanyi police cells would be charged with cyber espionage under sections 17, 18, and 21 of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act.

Efforts to trace his details on the particular university’s website and on social media platforms did not yield any results.

By the time of going to press, the university in question had not responded to our request for his details.

“I still do not have any official information on that but I’m trying to get through various government agencies to find out. If I get (it), I will come back to you,” the university’s public relation’s officer told the Nation.

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