Fine but unethical hackers? Alex Mutungi Mutuku (centre) and Mr Stanley Kimeu Mutua in court
BUSINESS DAILY: The 26-year-old Information Technology expert at the centre of ongoing investigations into airtime theft at Safaricom is also facing separate criminal charges for his role in last December’s hacking of a bank’s system, it emerged on Thursday.
Alex Mutungi Mutuku acknowledged that he is the same person who was charged with hacking into NIC Bank in January, adding that he believed Safaricom has singled him out from among the other suspects because of that case.
“I was arrested in early January for allegedly hacking into NIC Bank. The case is ongoing. Now when Safaricom was hacked and it found that I, like other subscribers, had bought the stolen airtime without knowing, they were very quick to arraign me,” Mr Mutuku said in an interview.
The University of Nairobi’s Bachelor of Information Systems graduate was early this week charged with manipulating Safaricom’s computer system and stealing electronic airtime worth Sh20,000.
Mr Mutuku appeared before a magistrate at Nairobi’s Milimani Law Courts where he was charged and his case set for hearing on May 19.
In the NIC Bank case, Mr Mutuku alongside two others are accused of hacking into the bank’s customer database and obtaining information for which he demanded to be paid the equivalent of Sh6.2 million in bitcoin. Bitcoin is a form of virtual currency traded online that has at times been used by criminals to launder illicit funds.
It is also alleged that the suspects, on diverse dates between August 2 and 5 at the NIC Bank head office in Nairobi, stole Sh2.88 million belonging to the bank.
The double prosecution of Mr Mutuku highlights the rising wave of cybercrime that Kenyan companies are facing as the country’s pool of IT savvy individuals increases.
Mr Mutuku on Thursday expressed anger at the fact that Safaricom had chosen to prosecute him based on the fact that he had another case in court.
“I’m very furious about this Safaricom thing. Charging me with the air time theft based on my history is wrong,” said the suspect, who is out on a Sh20,000 bond.
Mr Mutuku added that he is self-employed and survives on earnings from mobile applications he develops, which are hosted on Google Play.
“I was in Kathiani High, scored an A and at University of Nairobi I graduated in 2012 with an Information Systems degree and I know how to code in most languages. Java, C++, Web languages like Php,” he added.
A background check on social media gives a glimpse of Mr Mutuku’s IT savvy. On March 7, 2013, he posted on his Facebook account how he was able to download and read the Daily Nation e-paper for free using a programme he had developed as a first year student at the University of Nairobi.
On March 8 the same year, he published another post telling the public how to gain access to the Nation e-paper without paying the required subscription.
In the Safaricom case, Mr Mutuku is charged with collaborating with others, at an unknown place within Nairobi, to steal airtime valued at Sh20,000 belonging to Safaricom.
The charge sheet says the alleged crime was committed by interfering with the functioning of Safaricom’s computer system with intent to procure himself an advantage.
Safaricom is reportedly pursuing about 10,000 Safaricom subscribers who bought the stolen airtime at half the market price.
Architects of the crime are said to have broken into Safaricom’s computer systems and stolen airtime, which they sold in the market at half the retail price.
The perpetrators of the crime are said to have created a huge market for the stolen airtime by informing friends and relatives where to buy from, causing alarm within Safaricom.
Some of the stolen airtime was traced to friends and relatives of the masterminds, having been sent to them for free.
Safaricom has used serial numbers of the stolen airtime to trail their circulation in the marketplace, blocking thousands of consumers found to have handled it.
In the NIC Bank case, the court heard that on December 18, Mr Mutuku and Mr Stanley Kimeu Mutua threatened the bank with exposure if their demands were not met.
The two denied charges of theft, attempted extortion and blackmail. They are also alleged to have threatened to publish confidential customer information that they had accessed by hacking into the bank’s systems.
The court granted them a cash bail of Sh700,000, with alternatives of depositing Sh1 million bonds with similar sureties.