Cybercrime is on the rise in the country and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has enlisted the assistance of international crime-fighting organs to strengthen the unit’s investigating tools to combat internet-based crime.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) means that the SIU will be working with Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) for direct access to Interpol’s information system. The unit’s spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago, said the relationship would strengthen the SIU’s investigating tools of trade and access to data systems to combat cybercrimes.
Interpol NCB, which has a network of data systems in 195 countries that the SIU can tap into, will provide the unit with up-to-date training resources.
Interpol’s Brigadier Ntime Mokhine said the MoU paves the way for Interpol to build relationships with South African law enforcement agencies while enabling law enforcement entities to extend their international reach.
“You cannot resolve domestic issues that are impacted by international forces by only utilising domestic instruments,” said Mokhine.
Unit head, advocate Andy Mothibi, said the MoU is aligned with the SIU’s current cybercrimes and data analytics vision and the previous agreements that the unit has signed to build data analytics and forensics capacity, especially in the war against transnational organised crimes.
“This will also provide the SIU with access to locate people outside of South Africa that the SIU needs to subpoena for questioning related to investigations.
There is an alignment and synergy, and we look forward to making this work,” said Mothibi.
Last week it was reported that Lotto operator Ithuba came under attack from hackers, who attempted to gain access to its website in order to expose the names of previous Lotto winners.
In September, an attempt to gain access to the Department of Defence’s network was reported, while earlier in the year the Western Cape legislature became a victim of a cyberattack where extortionists demanded a ransom and members’ confidential information was leaked.
Genie Gan, head of Government Affairs and Public Policy for APAC and META regions at global cybersecurity company Kaspersky, said according to their data the African region remains heavily vulnerable to cybercrime.
“There was a 24% increase in the number of corporate users affected by web threats from Q2 to Q3 2023 in South Africa (web threats are internet-based threats that expose people and computer systems to harm online). And in Q3 2023, attacks were detected on 22% of industrial control systems in computers in South Africa – such systems are used in energy and mining sectors, manufacturing and others,” she said.
Gan said due to the cyberthreats being persistent in the region, it was vitally important for states, organisations and businesses to combine efforts in protecting their systems from attacks.
“We highly commend the collaboration between SIU and NCB in this regard.”
Chad Thomas, an organised and financial crime investigator, described the MoU as a major development.
“Criminals, both local and abroad, have become adept at using foreign jurisdictions to hide the proceeds of their crimes, and in some instances even have an exit strategy to escape to that foreign jurisdiction should they become the focus of an investigation,” he said.
“One must never forget that there is a symbiotic relationship between bad actors operating in the public sector and bad actors operating in the private sector, both of which have a common aim of plundering the public purse through, among others, corrupt tender awards which led to what we now refer to as state capture.”
He said many of these bad actors in both sectors had enablers helping to set up bank accounts and shelf companies and to move money around the world.
“Liaison with international law enforcement partners and having access to important databases will definitely aid in the identifying and repatriation of assets belonging to targets derived through corruption, as well as bringing targets back to South Africa to be held accountable for their crimes.”
Nazia Karrim, head of product development at SA Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS), said the MoU was a great step forward.
“We need more collaboration to stand a chance of getting ahead of the curve. The resources and expertise will certainly supplement our local law enforcement and help spur on initiatives in progress and grow our cybercrime capacity and intelligence capabilities,” she said.
Karrim said organised crime has been collaborating for decades, adding that while these perpetrators watched South Africa squabble over technicalities, they advanced their networks, resources and technical skills, growing to specialise in various crimes and then supercharged their business model using cybercrime.
“Their ingenuity and ability to collaborate surpassed our own.
“Everyone needs to play a role and contribute towards crime-fighting initiatives, including the public and private sectors and local and international law enforcement and consumers themselves. Cybercrime is borderless, our crime-fighting collaboration efforts need to be as well,” she said.