The passion and vision driving the information security field in Kenya

The Information Security field in the country is going through interesting times. Websites being defaced regularly, social media accounts being hijacked, banks losing money and so on. Today Tyrus tells us about the passion and vision that is driving AfricaHackOn in it’s mission to make us all secure from both internal and external threats.

Students at an AfricaHackOn bootcamp
Students at an AfricaHackOn bootcamp

The afternoon drew to a close, slower than honey out of a bottle. It was one of those days when no amount of conversation could inject any levity into such a drab day. Lewis & Bright appeared from nowhere, all blue-eyed like a litter of kitten that had discovered a ball of yarn. At the back of my mind, I wasn’t quite sure where all this excitement stemmed from. I was pretty certain, being in my Information Security team at Cellulant, they ought to have had enough work to last them a life time.

We have this amazing idea” Bright Gameli piped. I continued typing away unamused. Nonetheless, I gave them an ear.

How about we host a conference similar to Def Con or Blackhat?” Lewis Ng’anga explained. Still not convinced how this was ground breaking, I listened waiting for the punch line.

The two were part of a team I had recruited as IT Security engineers straight out of campus and they never disappointed. I trusted them with their tasks and gave them a wide berth at making tough calls with regards to the company’s security posture. They had passion I could relate to back when I started off; fiery and unquenchable. For quite sometime, the two had been toying with the idea of hosting a cyber security conference where obviously they’d get to show off their skills. Which was a good thing. Upon listening intently to the whole concept, we decided to breath some life into the idea.

Herein the AfricaHackon was born. The brief was really simple; get a collective of like minded aficionados, prepare live demonstrations of every facet of cyber security, no vendors, no powerpoint experts, tonnes of fun. Gathering the corporate and government types to participate in such an event was going to be a painstaking task which we were well cut out for. We reeled in every contact we knew of and sought out for organizations which could sponsor the conference both financially and through PR.

Personally, I bought into this vision without hesitation. For years, I had been attending cyber security conferences and I was getting rather tired of vendors pushing for their products as opposed to tackling the philosophical gaps within the industry. Granted, it was an eye opener for me as well as a lesson on how to speak in front of a crowd( and how to use a laser pointer appropriately). In the same breath, I was of the conviction there were brilliant minds out there whom we hadn’t discovered yet. Deeply rooted in my conviction was one of the pillars enshrined in the National Cyber Security Master plan, “Capacity Building” through Training and Awareness. A cause I decided to run with unfettered and with no fuss.

Our first conference was a remarkable success, with unwavering support from PwC, IEEE, iSols LTD, Azanuru, Euclid Consultancy and Serianu LTD. The turn out was extraordinary. Tickets were oversold, the room was bursting at it’s seams, the air was charged with excitement and best of all, we harnessed new talent. Given it’s success, we decided to keep AfricaHackOn alive by continuing with a disciplined driven initiative with commitment at it’s core. Our vision became even bigger and manifested itself with training programs at the Akirachix foundation, weekly meetups at Fireside LTD, co-conveners of the annual Barcamp at the iHub, training at the Department of Public Prosecution, university and college cyber security bootcamps and a host of other success stories.

Like every other outfit, we attract both good and bad. Fortunately, as it’s been consistently proven, a system always rids off those who aren’t aligned to the cause. We at AfricaHackOn aren’t afraid of letting people go because passion, just like a river, will forge it’s course irrespective of whatever obstacle. The upside to this is we have grown and maintained a lean team of very brilliant and highly disciplined guys who always attract their ilk. Our currency of choice as part of the membership fee is uncompromising commitment. This is what has made us good at what we do. Interestingly enough, we reached out to the public through a ‘Call for Papers’ which essentially means anyone can submit a presentation demo for our upcoming conference. The result of this has been rather eye opening. With approximately 2000 Information Security practitioners in the country, only 5 or 6 submitted a concept paper. This begged the question what do the other 1,995 do for a living drawing a salary through an information security related career? My opinion holds true that we generally have many talkers and very few doers. This is the gap AfricaHackOn seeks to close.

Having been practicing the trade for close to 10 years now, this has been the highlight of my career. Working with raw talent and learning to walk with the team at grounding our outfit as one of it’s best in Africa. My vision for AfricaHackOn is to have it play host to about 20,000 cyber security professionals who can measure up to their counterparts at BlackHat, DefCon, ShroomCon etc. We aim at having an annual conference within the East Africa within the next two years and recursive conferences in major cities across the continent in 3 years.

What Bright and Lewis begun on a Whatsapp group towards the end of 2013 is now passion in motion; No stopping it, only fueling it.

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