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Public Sector Cybersecurity Summit: The Real Cost of Not Knowing

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
Journalist. Reach me at

Investing time and money into cybersecurity practices has changed from being ‘a nice-to-have’ to a definite must-have in the daily operations of any modern enterprise, but when it comes to public sector organisations, understanding and investing in proper cybersecurity practices has become even more imperative.

This is because the public sector continues to be a highly lucrative target for cybercriminals due to the large amount of money that flows through some of these organisations, their operational importance for many countries and, usually, the relatively low protection they use.

The Nightmare at Transnet

Last year, South Africa’s public logistics and port operator Transnet, which controls all the country’s major ports – overseeing every single import and export into South Africa via the sea – was targeted by alleged threat actors in Eastern Europe, and its major systems were infected with the “Death Kitty” ransomware. The damage was catastrophic.

On 22 July 2021, Transnet’s IT systems, websites, and Navis container terminal OS went offline due to the attack. It took 8 whole days for Transnet to become “mostly” operational again. In the meantime, South Africa bled millions if not billions of dollars as operations had to be performed manually, slowing down the process of import and export exponentially.

Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, said at the time that its members could not get their cargo in and out of the ports following the attack, and Terry Gale, chairperson of the Exporters Club of the Western Cape, said that the situation at Transnet’s ports had become a “total nightmare”.

The attack on Transnet was completely unforeseen, and the company’s leadership was caught entirely unawares. However, the truth is that a robust cybersecurity strategy against such an attack could have made a difference.

Africa Will Be the Next Target

For 8 days, all of South Africa’s sea imports and exports were effectively at a standstill, at the mercy of something called “Death Kitty.” Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy and Evangelist at cybersecurity education group, KnowBe4, believes that Africa, and other emerging economies, will be the focus of cybercriminals in the coming years due to how unprepared enterprises in these nations will be to attacks.

“With the United States declaring ransomware a national threat, more criminals will shift their attention towards the emerging economies and South Africa is quite attractive,” said Collard about the Transnet attack.

“The concerning point is what are we going to do in South Africa if and when more of our critical infrastructure comes under attack. It’s absolutely crucial that we (industry, public and private sector) need to collaborate and assist each other in cases like that and defend our country against this inevitable threat together,” she concluded.

The evidence of these attacks and how devastating they can be is no secret, and most importantly, they are ramping up – in 2019, the City of Johannesburg had its IT systems crippled in another ransomware attack that left people seeking emergency help, waiting as they were diverted to provincial call centers. In 2021, the same year as the Transnet attack, a hack on South Africa’s Department of Justice crashed all of the country’s court systems, causing enormous delays.

It is important to remember that these attacks can be prevented with the right protocols and policies. However, once the attack has happened and your system is compromised, you have no choice but to take it on the chin.

Your Public Sector Organisation Will Be Attacked

Again and again, cybersecurity experts tell us that cyberattacks targeting government departments and public enterprises (as well as private ones) are not a matter of “If” but of “When.” If your company is digitally connected, as all successful modern enterprises should be, then you need to have a proper cybersecurity strategy in place.

Luckily, IT News Africa is partnering with the top experts in cybersecurity both internationally and locally at this year’s Public Sector Cybersecurity Summit on the 2nd and 3rd of August 2022. This virtual event will have all the information you and your public organisation will need to prepare yourself for the next coming cyber-attack.

Don’t be caught unawares – the attack is coming, and African enterprises will be prized targets – prepare yourself now before it’s too late.

Register for #PubliSec2022 and learn from a host of cybersecurity experts on how to protect your organisation from the worst threat actors out there.

By Staff Writer.

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