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R300 million Department of Public Works cyber theft bombshell drops

  • The new Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Dean Macpherson has revealed that in the past 10 years, cybercriminals have stolen R300 million from the department, without repercussion.
  • The most recent attack saw over R24 million stolen in May 2024.
  • Four high-ranking department officials have been suspended in relation to the cyber-theft.

Over R300 million has been quietly stolen from the South African Department of Public Works and Infrastructure in the last 10 years in what the department’s new Minister Dean Macpherson is calling an elaborate cybercrime scheme, which may have been started by department officials.

The department is responsible for all government-funded infrastructure projects in South Africa, and the property management services for all other ministries in government.

In just over a month in the post as Minister for the department, the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s Macpherson decided to reveal the matter to South Africans via X on Wednesday morning. He says the matter was initially unearthed by the former minister, now deputy minister Sihle Zikalala of the African National Congress (ANC).

“I have decided to take the public into confidence and advise South Africa that at least R300 million has been stolen from the department in the last 10 years in an elaborate scheme by cyber-hackers, and potentially officials within the department,” said Macpherson.

“We will ensure that financial controls are tightened and we hold those responsible accountable for their actions. I will continue to update you when more information becomes available,” he added.

In a statement, the department describes that while the amount of R300 million has been stolen in 10 years, more stolen funds may be discovered as the investigation moves forward, conducted by the South African Police Service (SAPS), the State Security Agency and the Hawks, as well as ICT industry and cybersecurity experts.

According to the department, the most recent episode of the theft occurred in May this year, where “cyber-attackers stole a further R24 million” from the department.

“This revelation emerged as Minister Dean Macpherson and Deputy Minister Sihle Zikalala conducted detailed assessments on the work of the department and through the incoming briefings from department branches,” the statement reads.

“It has become clear that the department has been a soft target and playground for cyber criminals for over a 10 year period and this should have been picked up a lot earlier,” added Macpherson.

Four officials within the department have been suspended as part of the investigation, with 30 department laptops already seized by investigators. The suspended officials include three senior management and one middle management official.

A full forensic probe has now been ordered into the department’s vulnerabilities in ICT systems. It says investigators will now cover:

  • The potential causes of the breach and other vulnerabilities,
  • Vulnerabilities to cybercrime within ICT infrastructure within the department,
  • and lack of staff training and potentially weak ICT security systems.

“The department has suffered a massive financial loss and those responsible for protecting us from cyber criminals will be held to account. We need answers as to what happened under our watch,” explains Macpherson.

“We also ask investigators to trace and follow the money and ensure that it is brought back to the coffrs of the government.”

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