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South African Child Maintenance Payments Delayed by Ransomware Attack

© REUTERS / Kacper Pempel/IllustrationA hooded man holds a laptop computer as blue screen with an exclamation mark is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017
A hooded man holds a laptop computer as blue screen with an exclamation mark is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.09.2021
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said court hearings continued in "manual mode" after a cyberattack that crashed its computer systems, but other services were suspended until the crisis was resolved.
Child maintenance payments to South African single parents have been suspended following a ransomware attack on the country's Justice Ministry.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development activated its contingency plan after hackers infiltrated the computer virus on 6 September, tech website Bleeping Computer reported.

The attack "has led to all information systems being encrypted and unavailable to both internal employees as well as members of the public", departmental spokesman Steve Mahlangu said. "As a result, all electronic services provided by the department are affected, including the issuing of letters of authority, bail services, e-mail and the departmental website”.

Ransomware attacks use specially-written malware — malicious software — which encrypts or otherwise denies access to the data on the target computer system for the purpose of extortion. The target is only able to regain control of their system and recover their files once they pay the cyber-criminals off.
Common targets for such attacks are government agencies and large companies who can afford to pay a sizeable ransom.
The departmental spokesman said court sittings had continued after what he called a return to "manual mode".
But he said child support money would have to be held back until the problem was resolved.

“While the department is not able to determine the exact date when the required systems will be restored, it will ensure all child maintenance money is kept secure for payment to the rightful beneficiaries when the systems are back online”, Mahlangu said.

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University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business Adjunct Professor Herman Singh told The Independent Online that ransomware attacks were the form of cybercrime showing the most rapid growth globally.

"There is one ransomware attack every 11 seconds globally. The average downtime after each attack is 21 days. This depends on whether the ransom is paid or not", Singh said. "Ransoms are much maligned in public but routinely paid in private".

Mahlangu said there was “no indication of data compromise" in the attack. No hacker group has claimed responsibility yet.
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