By Linda Mbongwa and Joseph Makua
"Team Evil", a group of Moroccan hackers, has prompted South African website operators to improve their security, following the biggest-ever hacking attack.
Local websites were defaced by the hackers who started destroying 260 websites on the afternoon of January 8.
Their path of destruction continued after this date, with the group claiming responsibility by posting their names and a political message on the home pages of the defaced sites.
The message read: "Team anti-USA, anti-Terrorism, anti-Israel. Our message is for USA & Israel are terrorists, people in Iraq & Palestine are dying every day, children are losing their parents, losing their lifes (sic), what's going on?! Move on people! Move on and do something, your turn we'll (sic) come, are you still keeping it quiet?"
All the hacked websites used the Windows 2003 operating system.
Reinhardt Buys, managing director of IT company Buys Inc Attorneys, said an article published on www.itweb.co.za has since pointed out that the server computer that hosted all the companies which were hacked had been traced.
According to the article, Gamco, a Johannesburg-based internet service provider, hosted all sites that were affected.
Speaking to The Star, Gamco director Sean Bezuidenhout said one of their machines was "vulnerable" on Saturday.
However, the company was able to pick up the problem within the first hour and fix it.
Buys said most companies "looked at the incident as an embarrassment".
Asked what he believed was the purpose behind the hacking, Buys said it appeared to be an attempt to influence political beliefs.
He said hackers would sometimes inform companies that they had hacked into their websites - and then demand large amounts of money.
"It's very difficult to prosecute," Buys revealed, "especially since these guys are from outside South Africa."
However, local hackers pay hefty fines, and even face going to jail.
This hacking incident comes almost two years after Absa account holders lost R500 000 to a hacker who had broken into the bank's system.
Buys said affected companies in this latest case should take action against their service providers as the service providers should have ensured a safe environment for clients.
Justine Stanford, managing director at 4D-Digital Security, a company which specialises in security on the Internet, said there was awareness of "Team Evil" but he was not sure their recent attack on the South African websites "was anything serious".
Stanford described the group of hackers as "a bunch of people who needed attention and wanted to make a political statement". 4D-Digital Security had not received requests for help from any of the affected companies.
Stanford made it clear that the incident was "just a hacking and not a virus" - and that the hackers "rarely break into Macintosh systems, only Windows".