The Sunday Mail
Suspected computer hackers last night released the names, pictures and personal email communications of two journalists who are allegedly behind a social media project that hit international headlines last year after claiming to be a mole in President Mugabe’s inner circle.
The scandal threatens to suck in prominent figures who were tricked into releasing money by the pair as some of the released e-mails reveal dealings with The Zimbabwean newspaper editor Wilf Mbanga who apparently requested assistance in marketing his newspaper in exchange for regular cash payments.
The pair identified as South Africa based Mxolisi Ncube and Mkhululi Chimoio ran a Facebook page called Baba Jukwa, claiming to be a high-ranking Zanu-PF official who worked with the President.
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It remains unclear whether or not the pair worked alone. There are suspicions that there were other players who had been working in partnership with the two. If the authorities decide to take action against the pair, there is a possibility they will implicate other individuals.
Last night NewZimbabwe.com published email communications, pictures and a video made by unknown hackers showing details of how they penetrated the pair’s email communications and traced their real identities.
One of the leaked but redacted documents, written in the format of an official report, explained that a bona-fide backup email address and phone number had been retrieved from a compromised email account which allowed the attackers to trace the account back to the real identities of Ncube and Chimoio.
It is unclear how access to the email account was gained, leading to speculation in online forums that the intelligence services may have been behind the operation.
A software engineer based in the United States who preferred to remain anonymous for this report said:
“It is very difficult to operate clandestinely on the internet unless you are quite technically sophisticated. I really do not know how they got into his emails but it’s possible they sent him an email purporting to have information with
an attachment carrying a malicious payload.
“After that, anything could have happened from key-stroke logging to acquire passwords or just screenshot surveillance of all his online activities.”
Reached for comment last night, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo refused to be drawn into speculating about the alleged role of the intelligence services. Prof Moyo said the claim “should be taken with some grain of salt given that Internet hacking has become an art form even among high school kids”.
He said the law should take its course to ensure members of the public recover their money, which was stolen by the “now busted Baba Jukwa”.
“While the claim that the anonymous hackers who have unmasked Baba Jukwa worked with unnamed intelligence services should be taken with some grain of salt given that Internet hacking has become an art form even among high school kids, it should be said that there is no unknown on the Internet. Surfing the Internet is no different from driving on any highway,” he said.
“There’s no permanent privacy or secrecy there about your car or anything inside it not least because you can be stopped and your car can be searched. Everything on the Internet is either known or can be known sooner or later. This is because the Internet is surfed by users whose access codes are based on passwords that can be decoded or websites that can be broken into in the same way that cars on the roads out there can be broken into or stolen with the consequence of breaching the privacy of their users or owners. As such, the least said about how the now busted Baba Jukwa was actually unmasked the better.
“The conspicuous fact with far-reaching implications is that we now all know that Baba Jukwa was a fake Zanu-PF insider who claimed to be a member of the party’s politburo when he most probably does not even know where the Zanu-PF politburo actually meets.”
Prof Moyo added: “While there’s no shortage of Zanu-PF impostors, what is very serious about the Baba Jukwa debacle is not only that the public was deliberately targeted for duping but also that the duping was used to steal money from the public. The Baba Jukwa characters stole money from the public under false pretences. The law must follow that money and take its course without fear or favour.”
Baba Jukwa came to the attention of the authorities after claiming to be a disgruntled senior Government official. He began a concerted campaign to publish the phone numbers of top State officials, purporting to reveal classified Government information and at one time threatened to kidnap the children of a Cabinet minister. A man was last year arrested after sending indecent messages to Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri after Baba Jukwa had posted the number on his page and urged his followers to call the police chief. Soon after the page was opened the pair quickly set up a Paypal account and began to request donations under the guise of funding a new media initiative. Emails released last night show the pair discussing the need to get people to donate more money. At one point they can be seen complaining that they have only received US$30. A senior Government official, who preferred to remain anonymous as he is not authorised to speak on security matters, said it was possible the hackers have known since the very beginning who Baba Jukwa was.
“The intelligence services, if they are involved, are not necessarily there to stop things from happening but rather to understand a phenomenon. So they tend to take their time and this should not be mistaken for inaction,” said the official.
Last night social media users blasted the two journalists for deliberately misleading them with some describing the pair as “entrepreneurs of the year” in an apparent reference to the manner in which they managed to successfully solicit donations. The page caused a stir on social media last year and was featured in international media such as the BBC after sharing details of alleged conspiracies towards the July 31 election. The revelations are particularly embarrassing for Wilf Mbanga, the United Kingdom based editor of The Zimbabwean newspaper, who was apparently duped into believing that the two journalists were in fact a senior official working with President Mugabe.
Some of the released documents show that dozens of donations were made by well-wishers who believed their money was going to be spent on the development of a media platform. It is unclear how much money was raised and what it was spent on. Little is known about the technical abilities of intelligence services, but it is believed that they have the wide-ranging capabilities to intercept communications under the Interception of Communications Act. The Act provides for a Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre manned, controlled and operated by designated technical experts.