Three government websites that were disrupted by a hacker over the weekend were defaced, not hacked, the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), which hosts the sites, said on Tuesday.
“Sita is confident of its work and capacity to secure government information and this remains the bedrock of its operations”, acting CEO Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said in a statement.
She said there was a distinction between hacking and defacing a website. “... Only the front-face or cosmetic parts were altered, but no government information was under threat.”
On Sunday morning, the website of the department of social development opened to a black page with a window containing the animated graphic “Website hacked by H4ksniper” and a graphic depicting a heart rate monitor.
Beneath it was the message: “Hello South Africa :D , Bad News For You IM BACK ! ..You Messed Wi[t]h Us & Now You Must Suffer..From Morocco with love.”
The Presidential National Commission (PNC) and the National Population Unit’s website’s were similarly defaced. By 2pm on Sunday the PNC and social development department websites had been restored.
Ntshavheni said cyber-criminal activity would not be tolerated in South Africa.
She said that no sensitive information was compromised by the breach.
“This information is protected by an extremely comprehensive and detailed standards set of controls comprising of best practices in information security.”
Asked the reasons for the attack, H4ksniper responded by e-mail on Sunday: “We all know that SA is the first supporter of the [República Árabe Saharaui Democrática] RASD and the ennemi of Morocco since a long time and we are hackers and our goal is defending our country...”
According to Wikipedia, the RASD, which is also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), is a partially recognised state which claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara, but controls only about a fifth of the territory, which it calls the Liberated Territories or the Free Zone.
Morocco controls and administers the rest, which it calls its Southern Provinces.
South Africa regards Western Sahara as a territory illegally occupied by Morocco and wants greater self-determination for its residents.
H4ksniper described himself as a “grey hat hacker”, which refers to the activities of those who disrupt websites not for personal gain, but to expose technological vulnerabilities or create public awareness about a particular issue.
This is in contrast to black hat hackers, who destroy data or spread viruses, often for no given reason.