Transnet IT chaos highlights need for improved cybersecurity
Digitalisation of the economy is, of course, essential but it is not without hazards as the recent cyberattack on Transnet has demonstrated.
The state-owned entity fell victim to a serious cyber hack, with its IT system, websites and, critically, Navis container terminal operating system going offline on Thursday last week. This unprecedented attack led Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) to declare a force majeure (an unanticipated or uncontrollable event that releases a company from meeting its contractual obligations) and saw a halt to imports and exports from the country’s major ports, including in Nelson Mandela Bay where operations are slowly being restored.
Staff, meanwhile, were reduced to relying on pen and notebook in the absence of digital capacity.
This cyberattack came at the worst possible time, in the wake of the violent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that cost the country billions and dented investor confidence.
The resultant paralysis at ports has been a serious blow to a range of key businesses — from freight companies to agriculture and the automotive industry.
The end result is what SA cannot afford — yet more damage to the economy with companies losing profits and workers being placed on short time.
The nature and extent of the attack has not been made public by Transnet, presumably for security and legal reasons.
There has been speculation that the cyberattack was in fact linked to the unrest, part of a concerted attempt to undermine the state. However, many experts say it was likely to be a ransom attack directed from abroad.
Critics said Transnet needed to heighten its cybersecurity. But the state enterprise is not alone in proving vulnerable to cyberattack.
The US, for example, has experienced major cyberattacks on key facilities, including ports, and the US government is now offering large rewards for information about cyberattacks emanating from foreign powers.
About two years ago, SA experienced a series of high-profile ransomware attacks on municipalities and banks.
The Covid-19 lockdown has led to more people and businesses functioning online and there has been a commensurate rise in cybercrime across the globe, including SA.
The new Cybercrimes Act is a major step towards defending local institutions and citizens from digital attacks but it is unlikely that the Transnet hack is the last we will experience of malicious cyber assaults.
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