From all those movies and TV shows that I watch, I have always wondered what a real world hacker looks like and inevitably, every-time I attempt the exercise an image of a soulless misanthropist with thick prescription glasses appears in my mind. They live in their parents basement or attic, wearing nothing but their underwear as they type furiously on blogs as they give their take on the World economy, the Knights Templar, Who killed Kennedy, the Illuminati and the NSA.
Most these hackers are Caucasian- the black dude often dies first in the movie- which might explain my difficulty in conjuring up the image of what exactly a Zimbabwean hacker looks like. That and the fact that the city council and government will murder you before they allow you to build a basement this country makes you wonder where the Zimbabwean hacker lives if s/he exists if you also consider that most houses here do not have an attic either.
You and I no longer have to keep on wondering however. It would appear that, according to a recent article in the Herald, your Zimbabwean hacker lives next door, knows very little coding and the only programming languages s/he knows are Facebook and Twitter. Chances are that s/he is a ZESA employee or one of the firms contracted to supply prepaid meters and he does it (the hacking) the old school way using social engineering and with jumpers and cables. You see before Google and Facebook old school hackers like Kevin Mitnick used things like whistles to hack into phone systems and make free calls.
It would seem ZESA has learnt nothing from the way old school hackers used to gain access into systems. For example in the case of Mitnick: he was able to freely ride on Los Angels buses because he was able to convince a friendly bus driver to tell him where to buy a puncher that was used in punching the tickets used in buses. Investigations by the Herald have revealed that in a similar manner over 4000 households have managed to buy and have installed on their properties “hacked” meters that allow them to freely use electricity in their houses. It appears there are many loopholes in the meter installing process which everyone at the company seems to know about but no one is willing to close ostensibly because they are benefiting.
As a result ZESA is being defrauded of between $10 million to as much as $30 million every month by these hackers. These hackers might not be stealing cold cash or Bitcoins as infamous hackers in other parts of the world but energy is a currency that can be converted into cash by accepting bribes from clients. To compound matters, we are told by one ZESA customer who emailed us recently, that some of the machines installed by ZESA allow you to freely use electricity freely if they breakdown. Apparently when the Itron User interface cannot reach the meter one is not charged for the electricity they consume. It is not clear whether this is an issue with all the meters or if this is unique to this user because if it is the former you can bet a lot of tech-savy Zimbos have already discovered the loophole and are taking advantage of it. When the client told ZESA about this malfunction he was told there were no spare parts so the client has done what any rational person amongst us would do; continue to enjoy his free lunch.
In a normal world we would expect ZESA to swiftly swat these hackers and their accomplices but in the wake of Salary-gate we know no one cares. If only the parastatal would employ competent people to take care of the problems it is facing including the tampered meter problem maybe we would have less black outs.