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With R300m missing, government assures citizens it takes cybersecurity seriously

  • Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni assured South Africans that government takes cybersecurity seriously.
  • This after it was revealed by Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Dean Macpherson that R300 million had been siphoned from the department over the last decade.
  • The DPWI is investigating the matter together with the State Security Agency, SAPS and Hawks as well as cybersecurity experts.

This week newly minted Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Dean Macpherson, revealed the shocking news that over the last decade, R300 million has been siphoned from the department. These funds were stolen in an elaborate cybercrime scheme that allegedly involved department officials.

The details of this decade long heist are yet to be made public as the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) investigates the breach. Four officials have been suspended on the back of this news and investigators are examining 30 laptops.

On Thursday, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni assured South Africans that government takes cybersecurity seriously and that the DPWI had ordered a forensic investigation of its network back in May.

Ntshavheni points to a statement former Minister of the DPWI Sihle Zikalala made in May as evidence of government’s action. However, at the time, Zikalala said that the system was under attack from cybercriminals and made no mention of a theft that went on for over a decade. In fact, the former minister didn’t even seem to be aware of the full extent of the potential cybersecurity incident at that time as it was still being determined.

To make matters worse, the department was told by Absa and the SARB that it had detected breaches, bringing the DPWI’s internal processes and detection tools into question.

As for the investigation, Ntshavheni says that the DPWI is being assisted by the State Security Agency and urges investigators to work with speed and thoroughness to conclude their work.

“The SSA continues to provide support and advice to government departments on cybersecurity. The SSA is finalising a consolidated assessment on government’s cybersecurity strengths and initiatives underway to address any weaknesses found in the system. The report once completed will be submitted to the National Security Council for further processing and direction,” Ntshavheni said.

We’re curious to see that report and how government’s cybersecurity ranks as determined by the SSA and how government implements suggestions the agency makes. While it’s said DPWI was a soft target, that doesn’t bode well for other government departments where cybersecurity may be less of a concern.

It is, however, concerning that money was siphoned from the DPWI for so long and without being noticed. We hope the GNU is working to uncover and expose this malfeasance so as to bring those who facilitate are brought to book.

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