EDITORIAL: Transnet cyberattack will further sink SA’s harbour rankings

EDITORIAL: Transnet cyberattack will further sink SA’s harbour rankings

2021-08-02 06:03:00 AM

EDITORIAL: Transnet cyberattack will further sink SA’s harbour rankings

The Port of Durban is in the bottom three of the world’s 351 container handling facilities in a World Bank index

A loading crane straddles a freight rail track at a Transnet’s container handling terminal. Picture: BLOOMBERGIt never rains but pours for SA’s economy.Last week, Transnet groaned under a cyberattack, bringing three ports, including the critical Durban Harbour, to a standstill and forcing the state-owned logistics group to declare a force majeure.

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In layman’s terms, Transnet — whose sprawling supply chain infrastructure spanning a railway network, cargo trains and ports makes it a crucial player in the economy — backed out of contracts to move goods in and out of SA for more than a week.The force majeure, which was lifted on Monday, is the second in as many weeks. Earlier in July, the company’s port operations in Durban ground to halt when crowds ran amok, burning any commercial building in their path, looting and forcing the closure of the main artery linking Johannesburg and Durban.

It is unclear if the cyberattack, which paralysed Transnet’s IT system responsible for clearing goods in and out of SA, and the insurrection are linked.But given the timing, suspicions have been raised that the two events are possibly connected. Bloomberg reported last week the so-called “Death Kitty” group of cybercriminals, who are linked with high-profile intrusions worldwide and are focused on squeezing out as much money as they can from their targets, could be behind the hacking.   headtopics.com

Indeed, the DA issued a statement last week connecting the intrusion to the riots that blended looting and economic sabotage, saying the perpetrators of the failed insurrection turned their attention to crippling Transnet’s port infrastructure.However, authorities and some cybersecurity experts say the insurrection and the cyberattack are not connected. 

One thing is certain though — ransomware attacks have risen exponentially during the pandemic because millions of us are working from home, heightening the risk of criminals gaining unauthorised access to company devices especially for businesses that have not invested in cyberdefences.     

The Cyber Exposure Index, which is based on data collected from publicly available sources on the dark web and deep web as well as from data breaches, ranks SA sixth on its list of most-targeted countries for cyberattacks.  The list of SA companies that have been targeted is long: from City Power of the Johannesburg city council and the Civil Aviation Authority to Life Healthcare and Nedbank. But the scale of the impact of the latest attack on Transnet is unprecedented.  

Containers piled up and trucks snarled up outside the ports of Durban, Ngqura in Coega, Gqeberha and Cape Town as Transnet turned to a cumbersome paper-based system to, for example, get clearance from the SA Revenue Service rather than using fast digital applications.  headtopics.com

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That meant trucks ferrying imported and exported goods waited hours before they could turn around, dealing a hammer blow to businesses that rely on harbours such as the Port of Durban, the busiest on the continent that handles more than 60% of SA trade.  

The effect of the attack will be felt across all major players of the economy for a while longer even as Transnet lifts the force majeure because it will take time to clear the backlog. According to the SA Freight Forwarders, an industry body group, 170,000 cargo containers have been delayed.   

The incident will further stain Durban Harbour’s already negative image after being ranked in the bottom three of the world’s 351 container handling facilities in the World Bank’s Container Port Performance Index 2020, setting back SA’s economic recovery prospects. 

Crucially, the intrusion could eat away at the commercial logic of a R100bn project to nearly quadruple the size of Transnet’s container capacity and grow its car-handling capacity by two-thirds at Durban Harbour if SA does not urgently shore up its port cybersecurity defences.  headtopics.com

The good thing is SA has finally enacted the Cybercrimes Act, which provides a robust legislative framework to investigate and prosecute the criminals responsible for breaching them. It consolidates existing provisions dealing with cybercrime from a number of other laws while also broadening it.  

Read more: Business Day »

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A 7-month-old baby has since been safely returned to his mother after a hijacking in Cape Town on Monday.

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