SAPS cybercrime unit crippled by expired software licences

The South African police’s cybercrime unit has ceased investigations into hundreds of cases due to lapsed software licence payments, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

Police experts told the Sunday Times how investigations into illegal online activities such as hacking, EFT scams, and organised crime have been halted due to expired software licences for equipment used to interpret cellphone data.

This has also delayed forensic reports for use in ongoing trials, including the case of alleged Islamic State members Aslam Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel.

Earlier this year, a service provider appointed by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) threatened to halt essential services due to lack of payment, and the parliamentary portfolio committee on police said several police and SITA agreements were major security risks.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, a source with knowledge of the cybercrime unit’s operations said the police were migrating from technology that could be used in the field to a solution which tied officers to their desks.

Migration to new technology

Investigators previously used a Cellebrite Touch device to intercept data from cellphones quickly, but have now moved to a desktop system.

Computer Guyz head of digital forensics Craig Pederson told the Sunday Times that the work conducted by the police’s cybercrime unit was essential.

“We live in an age where technology is used broadly and plays a definite role in many of the more serious crimes,” Pederson said.

“The unit is a vital link in the complex task of collecting evidence.”

Police spokeperson Brenda Muridili told the Sunday Times that the police were unable to comment on the issue.

“We are not able to disclose any information with regard to covertly required IT solutions,” Muridili said.

The South African Police Service has previously investigated a number of online schemes, including the recent BTC Global cryptocurrency scam – which led to 28,000 people losing more than R1 billion.

Last year, the police also attracted controversy for purchasing “the most expensive bulletproof vests in the world”, spending R6.7 million on 200 lightweight vests for ballistics testing.

Now read: iOS 12 will block police hacking tools – Apple

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SAPS cybercrime unit crippled by expired software licences