Earlier this month, the South African Department of Justice was the victim of a major hacking attack on its system, creating a freeze on activities managed by the computer system.
New cases of hack attacks on the South African operating system
The hackers allegedly got hold of the personal data of thousands of citizens and hacked into the operating system, also blocking data backup, which was allegedly encrypted. The Department of Justice and its IT department have been working for days to try to restore the system, giving priority to some operations that cannot be postponed, such as child support payments.
According to some sources, the operations have been done manually, as the computer system is frozen.
According to the site, which quotes anonymous sources from a cyber company that is cooperating with the Justice Department, the hackers demanded payment of 50 bitcoin.
Sources in the Department of Justice have flatly denied this, dismissing the hypothesis of a ransom demand as completely unfounded.
This would not be the first time that hacker groups have attacked South African judicial offices. In October 2020, hackers used the infamous DoppelPaymer ransomware malware to encrypt data from the South African chief justice’s computer system, demanding $200,000 in Bitcoin as ransom.
What is a ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of hacker attack on sensitive data on a computer system, which encrypts the personal data of the victim and threatens to publish or lock it if a ransom is not paid, which is very often in the form of a payment in bitcoin.
Typically, attacks of this type use a Trojan, which enters the operating system of a networked terminal after downloading a file or just by opening a deceptive email.
Originating in 2012, these types of cyberattacks have grown exponentially. The year 2021 seems to be setting an all-time record for this type of attack and the resulting ransom demands.
According to the team of researchers at Unit42 in Palo Alto, which specializes in cybersecurity, in the first eight months of the year, the average amount demanded initially by hackers is around $5 million, an increase of 518% compared to the $847,000 demanded on average in 2020.
The actual average payment would be around $570,000, an 80% increase over 2020, which had seen a 118% increase over 2019.
90% of these ransoms would be requested in Bitcoin.
In August, the Italian Lazio region was also the victim of such an attack, which was apparently followed by a ransom demand of 5 million euros in Bitcoin, a report denied by the region’s president Nicola Zingaretti.
The close link between hackers and Bitcoin
Bitcoin, because of its disintermediation, privacy, speed of transfer and difficulty in tracing transactions, has long since become the currency of choice for hackers all over the world, who are increasingly choosing this form of payment to profit from their criminal activity.
The American company JBS, the large multinational meat company, said in June 2021 that it had paid a ransom of $11 million in Bitcoin to free its computer system from a serious hacking attack.
Not only do they use Bitcoin to demand ransoms as in the case of ransomware, but they also often target exchange platforms or crypto companies to directly steal large sums of money in cryptocurrencies. Such as the sensational theft of around $260 million from the decentralized finance platform Polygon last August.
The cyber-thieves had hacked into the platform’s operating system and managed to steal the equivalent of around $600 million in different cryptocurrencies, of which around $350 million was recovered by the company.
It is also for these reasons that banking, financial and investigative authorities around the world are trying to regulate the world of cryptocurrencies, which often escape the control and tracking of their movements as opposed to fiat currencies.
According to the SEC, some criminals may be using cryptocurrency exchange platforms to easily launder their ill-gotten gains, and in recent days it has opened an investigation into the world’s largest exchange, Binance, for alleged money laundering.