4 suspended & laptops seized as Department of Public Works and Infrastructure unearths R300 million theft

New Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Dean Macpherson, has revealed that his department has unearthed a cybercrime-related matter that resulted in a staggering R300 million stolen over the past decade.

Macpherson revealed that in May, cyber attackers stole a further R24 million and this prompted a full forensic investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (known as Hawks), the South African Police Service (SAPS), State Security Agency, and experts in the ICT and cyber security industry.

These detailed emerged as Macpherson and Deputy Minister Sihle Zikalala conducted detailed assessments on the work of the department and through the incoming briefings from department branches.

“It has become clear that the department has been a soft target and playground for cyber criminals for over 10 years and this should have been picked up a lot earlier. I felt it important to let South Africa know what has happened and what we are doing about it.

“I cannot discount the possibility of collUsion between officials and criminals in 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,” Macpherson said.

He has pledged to crack down on these syndicates and those in cahoots with them, internally or externally.

“We want to put a stop to this immediately because we cannot allow our department to be subjected to unchecked looting. This is money that could have been spent on our infrastructure drive to improve the lives of South Africans. The investigation will be expanded and deepened to find the masterminds and the beneficiaries of this grand theft, and I want to see them in prison,” Macpherson said.

Four officials from the department have been suspended and 30 laptops have been seized by investigators.

The suspended officials include three in senior management and one in middle management.

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

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

The department identified the cyber-security vulnerabilities with the assistance of its banking partners, including Absa and the South African Reserve Bank.

The investigation which involves cyber and ICT security experts covers the following:

– Causes of the breach and vulnerabilities.

– Vulnerability and susceptibility to cybercrime of the ICT infrastructure within the department.

– Lack of staff capacity and weak ICT systems

“I welcome the precautionary suspension of four individuals, including senior managers and the seizure of over 30 laptops for further examination by the investigative teams. This will allow the 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,” Macpherson said.

He also welcomed the initial swift investigation launched by his predecessor and now deputy minister.

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


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