Justice department loses millions in cyberattack, four officials suspended

The Department of Justice has been the target of cyberattacks before. In 2020 hackers broke into their system and stole millions.

Four Department of Justice and Correctional Services employees face suspensions after millions of rands were stolen from its Guardian Fund.

Insiders say an investigation identified the alleged thieves accused of siphoning money from the fund.

“A probe was launched after the hacking incident was found a few weeks ago. Investigators discovered fraudulent transactions. Their suspension is looming,” says a source, who asked not to be named as they are not allowed to speak to the media.

According to the Sowetan, around R18m was stolen through a cyberattack two months ago.

Hackers had previously targeted the department, halting its IT systems and court services nationwide. The Guardian Fund administers monies for beneficiaries who cannot manage their finances, such as minors, unborn heirs, and missing or absent persons.

Master of the High Court

The Master of the High Court manages the fund at six master’s offices in Cape Town, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, and Grahamstown.

The Witness reported last week that the Pietermaritzburg office has been hit by cyberattacks, costing it millions of rand.

In the latest attack, cyber thieves made off with R18m belonging to beneficiaries in KZN and the Free State.

While the department assured the employees and South African citizens that it was beefing up its IT security system, Guardian Fund employees at the Pietermaritzburg master’s office revealed to The Witness that some of their colleagues have since been hauled before disciplinary hearings in connection with the theft of the funds.

In 2020, the department also fell victim to a similar cyberattack, with R10m stolen from the fund’s bank accounts.

A shop steward says they have been warning the authorities about the laxity of security in the department’s system, but their concerns fell on deaf ears.

“We have not been told about suspensions in this office, but we know that the employer is looking for scapegoats. We will only engage with the union leadership once something official is brought forward.”

Nehawu

The National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) says they were looking forward to the perpetrators being brought to book.

The union’s Harry Gwala regional secretary, Mazwi Ngubane, says: “They should deal with the perpetrators equally, irrespective of what position one occupies.

“We have been calling for stricter and tighter measures to ensure the security of the system, but no one cared to listen.

The recent action against the staffers comes after Justice Minister Ronald Lamola on Monday signed a cooperation agreement with French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna to fight cybercrimes.

The government says the agreement is meant to boost the special investigating unit’s (SIU) capabilities in investigating cyber and financial crimes and its analytical skills. An anti-corruption academy will also be established in Pretoria to train investigators from across the continent.

Lamola’s spokesperson Chrispin Phiri confirms that an investigation pointed to four employees.

“The department wasn’t hacked; it was fraud. A case was opened, and the police investigation continues.”

According to experts, the government and its entities are vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to poor information technology management.

Read original story on www.citizen.co.za

 
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