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Focus on Africa: Kenya: Home-grown hackers have looted millions from banks

The CBK: helping banks fight cyber-crime and emerging new threats
The CBK: helping banks fight cyber-crime and emerging new threats darknoise.png

A cyber security firm successfully traced the home-grown Kenyan cartel behind the looting of billions from several banks.


The Nairobi-based Star newspaper quotes the chief technology innovator of the Poland-based OnNet cyber security firm as saying that a hacker group called SilentCards had robbed a whopping 17 billion shillings from the country’s lenders. That’s a 150 million euros over the last two years. They had taken 3.54 million euros from a single bank last year.

SilentsCards is said to be an offspring of Forkbombo the group that syphoned SH400 million (3,5 million euros) from the country’s banks in 2017 before being rounded up. An ex-police officer who resigned to become a bank employee Calvin Otieno Ogalo, is believed to be the leader of the hacking syndicate.

Nairobi in Kenya
Nairobi in Kenya Reuters/Noor Khamis/File Photo

Easter loot

The revelations comes on the heels of daring attacks on four Auto Teller Machines belonging to Barclays Bank in Nairobi over the Easter weekend during which they made away with 97,000 euros.

The OnNet official Stephanie Neringa told the Kenyan Star that the faceless gangsters operate one step ahead of their hunters, taking advantage of loopholes in banking infrastructure.

Ignorant accomplices

Victor Amadala, a business writer with the publication who has been investigating the mass break into the country’s banking system says the hackers operate by using genuine credit card data.

kenyan youths: high demand for hi-Tech skills
kenyan youths: high demand for hi-Tech skills

According to Amadala, they actually go about buying cards especially from university students with dormant accounts and using them to conduct the looting. As he put it, “if somebody has about 100 dollars in his account and is offered 300 dollars, he will sell his card, ignoring the designs of the purchaser.

Rogue bank workers

The Kenyan journalist also recalls revelations made at a cyber-security workshop in Nairobi last year that ignorant customers and rogue bank staff colluded with hackers to loot millions from cash machines. Some go to the extent of selling vital security information about the vulnerability of their firms to the criminals, Amadala told RFI.

Traffic stands still on both sides the streets of Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 7, 2015.
Traffic stands still on both sides the streets of Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 7, 2015. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Hard road to travel

Kenya’s Central Bank introduced cyber security policy guidelines two years ago to help banks deal with cybercrimes and prepare for emerging threats. But according to the Star’s business writer, the looting of 17 billion Shillings from local banks in 2017 was proof that several open backdoors have not been closed.

Kenya is ranked 69 out of the 127 countries in the global cyber-crime threat index.

Cyber-crime drains more than 530 billion euros a year from the global economy, according to a new report by the cyber-security firm McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That is double the cost in a year from 2016, and amounts to 0,8 percent of global Gross Domestic Product.



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