Gigaba ‘hack’ raises questions about ministers’ phone security

2018-10-29 16:56
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. (Paul Herman, News24)

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. (Paul Herman, News24)

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Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's revelation this weekend that his phone had allegedly been hacked and a compromising video of himself was leaked, has raised concerns about the security of Cabinet ministers' digital devices.

Gigaba tweeted on Sunday: "My wife and I have learnt, with regret and sadness, that a video containing material of a sexual nature, meant for our eyes only, which was stolen when my communication got illegally intercepted/my phone hacked, in 2016/17, is circulating among certain political figures."

The 13-second video shows Gigaba alone, engaged in a sexual act. According to his personal spokesperson Vuyo Mkhize, the minister had intended to send the video to his wife but never did so.

READ: Kompromat: Why Malusi Gigaba should resign

Three separate sources with intimate knowledge of Cabinet ministers' phone security have told News24 that no exceptional measures are taken to secure ministers' devices.

Their phones are procured by their respective departments and while the SAPS is responsible for their personal security, this does not apply to their communications.

Acting GCIS head Phumla Williams referred queries about this to the police.

SAPS spokesperson Vish Naidoo in turn referred queries to the State Security Agency (SSA). The SSA spokesperson has not responded to requests for comment.

Danny Myburgh, MD of Cyanre Digital Forensics Lab, says Gigaba's claim that he was hacked does not surprise him but it does concern him.

"If we look at the past breaches that we've had in South Africa, where police or state systems were involved, I'm not surprised but I am concerned that these type of things are happening. I don't know what other confidential information he had on his phone. If he was reading confidential emails, SMSes regarding government contracts, confidential negotiations, all of that could have been compromised," says Myburgh.

READ: Inspector-General of Intelligence probes Gigaba video hack

Myburgh says that it is very possible that Gigaba was hacked, potentially by a state agency or by a syndicate.

"If we rely on his version of events, it could have happened in a number of different ways. If it was a compromise, it could have been as simple as he was making backups of his cellphone to his computer and that could have been hacked. Whatever you are able to do on computers, you are also able to do on cellphones. They can be sent spyware, everything that you're recording or browsing can be sent to a third party. It could have been a phishing syndicate that lured him into exchanging messages. There's not enough material available to say what happened in this case."

"Being in South Africa, it could have been our government. We would hope government isn't extorting one of its own ministers but government does have the capabilities to do so with the correct legal permissions. Predominantly, it is syndicates. A syndicate trying to extort tenders etc points to industrial espionage. An organisation or group targets him, compromises him and tries to secure government tenders."

The Inspector-General of Intelligence is investigating the incident involving Gigaba. The minister reported the matter to the Minister of State Security at the time when it occurred. Documentary evidence that he says proves his phone was hacked was handed to the SSA in May this year.

Mkhize has confirmed that a private investigator was appointed by him, on behalf of Gigaba, and the blackmailing efforts were later traced to two individuals, but it could not be conclusively proven that they were responsible.

Gigaba also apparently reported the matter to the police but a case was not opened.

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