R300 million stolen in massive cyber-heist

Cybercriminals have stolen at least R300 million from South African taxpayers over the past ten years thanks to security flaws at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.

This is according to new public works minister Dean Macpherson, who disclosed the issue in a statement on Wednesday.

Macpherson said insiders may have been involved, describing the decade-long heist as “an elaborate scheme by cyber-hackers, and potentially officials within the department.”

The minister said it was unthinkable that this had gone on for so long without being noticed.

“To build trust with South Africans, we must be transparent about the problems we face,” said Macpherson.

“We will ensure that financial controls are tightened, and we hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”

The issue was discovered thanks to an incident in May 2024, when attackers made off with another R24 million.

This prompted a full forensic investigation by the Hawks, South African Police Services, State Security Agency, and ICT and cyber security experts.

Details of the incident emerged when Macpherson and deputy minister Sihle Zikalala conducted detailed assessments on the work of the department and through the incoming briefings from department branches.

“I welcome the initial swift investigation launched by my predecessor and now deputy minister Zikalala,” Macpherson said.

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

Four officials have been suspended, and investigators have seized 30 laptops.

The four suspended public works officials include three in senior management and one middle manager.

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

Thanks to the investigation and with the help of Absa and the South African Reserve Bank, the department identified the security vulnerabilities the hackers exploited.

“We are appealing to the team probing this security breach to conclude their investigation with speed,” said Macpherson.

“We do not want prolonged investigations with no results and consequences. There is simply no place for corruption in this department,” he continued.

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

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R300 million stolen in massive cyber-heist