Hackers stole R300 million from South Africa’s public works department

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Dean Macpherson revealed that R300 million has been stolen from the department through cybercrime in the past ten years.

“I have decided to take the public into confidence and advise South Africa that at least R300 million has been stolen from the department in the last 10 years,” he said.

The Minister added that it was an elaborate scheme by cyber-hackers that may have involved department officials.

He advised that this number could be higher as investigations into the incidents continue.

The latest episode took place in May 2024, when the cyber-attackers stole a further R24 million.

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

“This revelation emerged as Minister Dean Macpherson and Deputy Minister Sihle Zikalala conducted detailed assessments on the department’s work and through the incoming briefings from department branches,” the department said in a media statement.

“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,” Macpherson said.  

“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 told the department is a matter of urgency.”

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

“We want to stop this immediately because we cannot allow our department to be subjected to unchecked looting,” he said. 

“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.”

The department announced that four officials had been suspended and 30 laptops seized by the investigators. 

The four suspended officials include three senior management officials and one middle management official. 

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

In May, the department announced that it had ordered a full forensic probe into what it called “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 cyber-crime 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,” Macpherson said. 

“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 and consequences. There is simply no place for corruption in this department.”

He further welcomed the initial swift investigation launched by my predecessor and now Deputy Minister Zikalala. 

He said the department has suffered a massive financial loss, and those responsible for protecting us from cyber criminals must be held accountable. 

“We need answers as to what happened under their watch. We also ask the investigators to trace and follow the money and ensure that it is brought back to the coffers of government,” the minister said.


Top JSE indices