Cyberhackers stole R300m over 10 years from department of public works and infrastructure – Macpherson

Koena Mashale Journalist
Minister of public works and infrastructure Dean Macpherson. File photo.
Minister of public works and infrastructure Dean Macpherson. File photo.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

Minister of public works and infrastructure Dean Macpherson has revealed that cyberhackers have stolen R300m from the department in an elaborate scheme. 

Macpherson said the money was stolen over the past 10 years. He said the recent theft was R24m back in May. 

“This prompted a full forensic investigation by the Hawks, police, state security agency, and experts in the ICT and cyber security industry. 

“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,” said Macpherson. 

Macpherson said this revelation emerged as he and deputy minister Sihle Zikalala were conducting detailed assessments of the department’s work. 

“I felt it important to let SA know what has happened and what we are doing about it. I cannot discount the possibility of collusion between officials and criminals during this prolonged period of theft. It is clear that we need better financial controls, which I have said to the department are a matter of urgency,” said Macpherson.

According to the department, four officials have since been suspended and 30 laptops seized by the investigators. 

The four department of public works and infrastructure officials suspended include three senior management officials and one from middle management. 

Macpherson said the department was forced to shut down all its payment systems, causing delays in the payment of its creditors. 

“In May, the department announced that it has ordered a full forensic probe into what it called vulnerabilities in the department’s information and technology systems. 

“The department identified the cybersecurity vulnerabilities with the assistance of its banking partners, including Absa and the South African Reserve Bank,” he said. 

The investigation by the cyber and ICT security experts covers the causes of the breach and vulnerabilities, the vulnerability and susceptibility to cybercrime of the ICT infrastructure within the department, and the lack of staff capacity as well as weak ICT systems. 

Macpherson said he welcomed the suspension of the four workers as that will allow investigations to proceed smoothly. 

“We are appealing to the team probing this security breach to conclude their investigation with speed. We do not want prolonged investigations with no results or consequences. There is simply no place for corruption in this department,” said Macpherson. 

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