Had Fredrick Wahome been driven by greed, he would be raking in more than Sh2 million hacking into companiesâ€™ and banksâ€™ systems, not the Sh1 million that he and his three partners make every month.
The 27-year-old software engineer is the managing director of Secunets Technologies Group, an information technology company that specialises in data security.
He and his colleagues have been contracted by banks, insurance companies, and revenue authorities from as far as Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe to make their systems impregnable to hackers.
Wahome lists the Bank of Kigali and the Ugandan Revenue Authority, as well as Kenyaâ€™s Bamburi Cement, as some of his regular customers.
For a five-stage process of securing a system from electronic intrusion, normally a monthâ€™s job, Wahome charges between Sh200,000 and Sh1 million, depending on the load.
He and his two partners also own a tourism side business and an online computer school, into which they plough their profits after splitting their earnings.
The online school, East Africa School of Computer Security and Forensics, has seven students who pay Sh20,000 to participate in a computer forensic competition at the end of their course.
â€œMany people think I am bluffing when I tell them I can get into their networks… until I give them a screen shot with a date and time to prove that I have just done that,â€ Wahome says.
He adds that his companyâ€™s viability is secured by lack of corporate discipline in many organisations to ensure that they are safe from attack.
He says: â€œThere is no adequate training of employees on simple issues such as the fact that an image or hyperlink in their email may have scripts that can relay crucial information about the organisation to a hacker.â€
After completing an assignment, he conducts a â€œhealth checkâ€ on the system. This entails hiring an external and equally competent hacker to conduct an external â€œpenetration testâ€.
â€œIf he manages to penetrate the system, I start the process all over again,â€ he says.
Secunets also develops payrolls and point-of-sale systems.
The company has five permanent employees and two branches and is planning to open a free school in Nakuru County to act as a hub for scouting for talent and training people to make money using technology.
Wahomeâ€™s tales of what his work, which he describes as curative and preventive, entails would scare many companies.
â€œCompetitor companies could pay a fortune to unethical hackers to acquire a rival groupâ€™s information, such as marketing plans of upcoming projects, personal details of shareholders, and payrolls, among other details… this kind of misfortune is what we try to prevent.â€
While still in school, he developed a passion for information security and taught himself when he was introduced to the course in his third year at university.
He learnt how to penetrate systems such as the universityâ€™s examinations server, wreaking havoc regularly in the administration.
After graduating from Maseno University, Wahome was employed at Kenya Data Networks as a network engineer with a monthly salary of Sh50,000. He says he felt â€œunder-employed intellectuallyâ€ while in formal employment.
In May 2010, with one monthâ€™s salary, he registered his company and its website domain and paid an instalment for the rent of an office in Nairobi.
â€œIt was tough being without the guarantee of a salary,â€ he says.
Wahome remembers his first job, which involved automating a hardware companyâ€™s check-out system. He says it was too much work for a mere Sh40,000.
In his free time, he would try to penetrate systems to â€œsee how smart he wasâ€ and he was surprised at how easy it was to hack into various banksâ€™ networks.
Rubbished his claims
When he approached the administration of a certain bank and offered to help, the IT manager rubbished his claims, terming him â€œgreedy and one looking for fame and moneyâ€.
â€œHe asked what qualifications I had compared with all the professional certificates from international software engineering institutes that he had.â€
Barely a week later, another hacker intercepted the bankâ€™s electronic funds transfer.
â€œThe manager called me, saying he was â€˜too busyâ€™ to handle the hacking and, therefore, he needed my help.â€
Secunets has received many referrals, both local and international.
Wahome plans to volunteer his services to train Kenyaâ€™s security personnel on forensics.
â€œIt is laughable when a major suspect is apprehended and the police ask him to help them access his own laptop,â€ he says.