According to three sources, including cybersecurity research studies, Chinese hackers attacked Kenya’s government in a broad, long series of digital breaches against important ministries and state institutions.
According to two of the sources, the hacks were conducted with the intention of learning more about the East African country’s debt to Beijing, at least in part. In President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure network, Kenya serves as a key strategic connection.
In a July 2021 research report made by a defence contractor for private clients, said, “Further compromises may occur as the requirement for understanding upcoming repayment strategies becomes needed.”
Over the past two decades, China’s influence in Africa has increased significantly. Kenya’s finances, like those of other African countries, are being stressed by the rising cost of servicing external debt, much of which is owed to China.
According to two of the insiders, the cyber campaign shows China’s readiness to use its intelligence resources to monitor and defend its commercial and strategic interests outside of the country.
According to an intelligence analyst in the area, the attacks were part of a three-year campaign that targeted eight ministries and government agencies in Kenya, including the presidential office. The analyst also revealed some technical information on the compromise of a server exclusively used by Kenya’s primary spy agency, as well as research documents that included the targets and the timeline of attacks.
The foreign and finance ministries were targets of similar hacker activity, according to a Kenyan cyber security specialist.
The presidential office of Kenya stated: “Your allegation of hacking attempts by Chinese Government entities is not unique. As far as we are concerned, none of the attempts were successful.” The government has been the target of ‘frequent penetration attempts’ from Chinese, American, and European hackers.
China is against “irresponsible moves that use topics like cybersecurity,” said Chinese embassy’s spokesperson in Britain, “to sow discord in the relations between China and other developing countries. China attaches great importance to Africa’s debt issue and works intensively to help Africa cope with it.”
According to a thorough database on Chinese financing maintained by Boston University, China contributed approximately $160 billion in loans to African nations between 2000 and 2020, the many of which were for sizable infrastructure projects.
Kenya financed an aggressive campaign to build or upgrade railways, ports, and roadways with loans from China totaling over $9 billion.
Beijing expanded its position as the nation’s biggest bilateral creditor, secured a stronghold in the largest East African consumer market, and established a crucial logistical centre on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
Chinese lending was drying up by late 2019, according to the Kenyan cybersecurity expert who told Reuters that he had been hired by Kenyan authorities to evaluate a hack of a government-wide network. Kenya’s financial difficulties were also evident. He said, “A lot of documents from the ministry of foreign affairs were stolen and from the finance department as well. The attacks appeared focused on the debt situation.”