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Durban - When police sent an e-mail to a suspected cyber criminal telling him he was being investigated, he sent a message back of his own.
“Catch me if you can,” was Sipho Msomi’s dare to investigators.
“The game was on,” Warrant Officer Sunette Potgieter, now with the Hawks Forensics Division, told local businesses in Durban yesterday.
Msomi had not answered his phone. That’s why police sent him an e-mail, she said.
Potgieter, who was highlighting the risks and threats of cybercrime to members of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in conjunction with the KZN White Collar Crime Task Group, said Msomi was nabbed 18 months later.
“Cybercrime does not just happen in America. We have those kinds of criminals in South Africa as well,” she said.
Msomi – hailed by the media as one of KZN’s most notorious computer fraudsters – is now serving an eight-year sentence in Kokstad Maximum Security prison (five further years were suspended) for targeting several government departments and defrauding them of millions of rand by hacking into their computers using sophisticated spy software.
He was part of a “huge syndicate”. Three other suspects are due to appear in the Durban Commercial Crime Court next March, Potgieter said.
“He is scary and he is brilliant… He is a gentleman, but clever as hell… I’d never give him my computer,” she said.
Potgieter stressed that he was not a criminal hero, but that she respected him. “He sat down and explained how he did everything,” she recalled.
The Hawks Forensics Division is a national unit and the Durban “digital laboratory” started in April, she explained.
Potgieter, who was with the commercial crimes unit before, said South Africans did not take cybercrime seriously enough. “They have no idea how they expose themselves and no idea how to protect themselves.”
She had seen cyber fraud mutate and change face over the past 17 years.
In a global survey involving 24 countries, South Africa was placed third (at 80 percent) for having the highest number of cybercrime victims, she said.
The global price tag to consumers (not companies) was $110 billion (R1 110 trillion) a year.
She was unable to give statistics on what it was costing South Africans every year.
There were 556 million global cybercrime victims a year, 1.5 million victims a day and 18 victims a second.
While personal computers remained the primary target of criminals, the cyber thieves were finding new ways of attacking mobile devices.
Two out of three people used mobile devices to access the internet… and “we are walking around with our computers in our hands… a huge part of our lives are contained in those small devices… banking and personal details and passwords.”
Thirty percent of people did not think about cybercrime, believing it would never happen to them.
“You have to treat smart phones the same way as your computer. You need to have security and your password protected.”
Forty-four percent of people were unaware that there were security solutions for their mobile devices, while 55 percent were not completely sure if their computers were free from viruses.
People had a responsibility to protect their own data – and that of their friends on social media.
Facebook, for instance, often included personal information that could be accessed.
“Unique passwords are the only way to safeguard ourselves… a good password stops a hacker in his tracks.”
There was software available to enable hackers to “run passwords.
“Think out of the box like a hacker”, she advised. And don’t use your pet’s name.
If someone sends an SMS from a really strange number (especially from +35 or +37 number), do not phone back “as they can then take your air time, even if you have a contract, and make phone calls”.