Your technology dictionary for the presidential petition

Wednesday August 30 2017

By JOHN WALUBENGO
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No doubt the ongoing Kenyan presidential petition has captivated audiences both here and abroad. 

Whereas we cannot discuss the merits or otherwise of the various position, it would be useful to break down and define some of the technical jargon that has been repeated throughout.

Top on the list is ‘logs’. What exactly is a computer log?

The dictionary definition of a log is a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities.  A computer therefore keeps a record of each and every activity that transpires during its course of executing tasks.

The electronic voter identification (EVID) kit is actually a specially designed computer with the ability to identify voters through their fingerprints, scan election forms and transmit results.

Each of these EVID kits keeps a summary of what transpired before, during and after elections.  It is important to observe that it is a ‘summary’ and not necessarily a replication of everything that transpired.

As an example, the logs from the kit would record the time when the election results were transmitted, who transmitted the result and if enabled, an encrypted copy of what was transmitted.

INCOMING RESULTS

Which brings us to the next buzzword, ‘encryption’. Encryption is the translation of data into a secret code. This basically means that information is deliberately hashed up to make it inaccessible to someone without the approved credentials.

It is a standard way of making data secure and immune to un-authorised changes. Indeed the EVID kit was designed to transmit the results in encrypted format, to make it a bit harder for someone to intercept and change in transit.

These results would then hit the IEBC servers while still encrypted, but eventually the servers would decrypt the results and display them to the public.

‘Servers’ are, naturally, our next buzzword.

A server is a dedicated computer that manages network resources. These resources may include other computers, printers, databases, applications or transmission links, amongst others.

For purposes of the election, the database server, the one that received and stored incoming results may be of interest as read from the petitions and affidavits that are now publicly available.

AUTHENTICATED PERSONNEL

A database server is a computer that keeps information in a structured form, structured in terms of allowing electronic tools to efficiently search, sort or edit the information.

The database server would of course have controls to ensure that only authenticated personnel have access to. Further that such access is regulated based on user profiles, essentially addressing the issues of who can access what and with what levels of privileges.  Which brings us to the finally buzzword – ‘Read-only’ access.

‘Read-only access' has become mainstream after the Justice Lenaola granted read-only access to IEBC servers for the NASA Petitioners. It basically means their team of professionals will have usernames to log into the servers and see everything without being able to change anything.

One additional privilege was also accorded - the ability to copy.  So technical teams may be able to copy the data off the servers and scrutinise it elsewhere, using additional, and perhaps more intrusive, technical tools

That's enough for now.  We probably shall have more liberty next week to analyse the proceedings after the judgement has been given.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu