Master's Office trying to clear 'unprecedented backlog' since September cyberattack

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The Master's Office has been the victim of a cyberattack.
The Master's Office has been the victim of a cyberattack.
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  • A cyberattack on 5 September had further contributed to the "unprecedented backlog" at the Master's Office.
  • Services at 15 offices had almost came to a halt, due to operational challenges.
  • The Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa says services are being restored, although operations are not back to normal.

A combination of the Covid-19 impact and a cyberattack has crippled operations at the Master of the High Court's offices across the country, but services are slowly getting back online, the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa (FISA) said on Thursday.

The Master's Office is an authority responsible for the issuing of letters of executorship to executors of deceased estates, letters of authority to authorised trustees, and the approval of liquidation and distribution accounts in deceased estates, and - according to FISA - all these functions have been on hold since the cyberattack on 5 September.

Banks use the Master's Office portal to verify Letters of Executorship before taking instructions from executors regarding a deceased estate. All these services have been affected and operations at 15 offices had almost ground to a halt.

However, Louis van Vuren, CEO of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa says there had been some progress in addressing the backlog and officials were now able to receive external messages, but it is still unclear whether all external messages were being received.

"Trusts have also been badly affected. New or replacement trustees are not authorised which, if the trust deed requires a certain minimum number of trustees, means that the investment portfolios of trusts cannot be rebalanced and can be impacted negatively by market movements," said Van Vuren.

"In addition, testamentary trusts cannot be registered, leaving minor children without maintenance while new charitable trusts can also not be registered. The impact on society and the economy is therefore significant."

FISA cautioned that although technical services had been restored, the restoration process has been sporadic, and processes that often take some time to be completed will be delayed further. The Master's Office is not only entity that has been hit by a cyberattack - the state-owned logistics firms, Transnet, was last month incapacitated by a ransomware attack in July. The glitch forced the company to shut down some of its key ports. 

Steel supplier Macsteel also revealed that it had been hit by a cyberattack around the same time as Transnet.

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