CIPC cyber attack leaves millions of entities vulnerable across nation

Hackers have targeted the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) leaving clients vulnerable. Photo: Pixabay

Hackers have targeted the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) leaving clients vulnerable. Photo: Pixabay

Published Mar 4, 2024


Durban — Sensitive data of at least three-million entities and individuals who were registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) could have fallen into the wrong hands when the organisation's database was hacked this week.

Addresses, credit card details, ID numbers and names of companies and individuals might be compromised and the CIPC has called on its clients to be alert to any unusual requests or messages.

It also warned clients to be vigilant when receiving emails, even those which might seem to have been sent from the CIPC email address.

The organisation’s Chief Strategy Executive Lungile Dukwana says it seemed to be a targeted attack and investigations were still under way.

“It is actually hackers that got into the system because we started to receive funny messages that were going to our staff but we couldn’t make out where it came from.

“It seemed to be something that is very directed. One of the messages that went to our staff was ‘we have hacked your database and we demand a ransom of a certain amount and you must do that by a certain time’,” he said.

According to Dukwana as soon as their ICT technicians were alerted to a possible security compromise as a result of their extensive firewall and data protection systems in place, certain CIPC systems were shut down immediately.

The CIPC is responsible for the registration of companies, (including non-profit companies), co-operatives and intellectual property rights (like trade marks, patents, designs and copyright) as well as its maintenance.

It says at this stage it’s unknown whether the cyber attack came from inside or outside South Africa.

“Unfortunately, certain personal information of our clients and CIPC employees was unlawfully accessed and exposed. CIPC clients are urged to be vigilant in the monitoring of credit card transactions and only approve or authorise known and valid transaction requests,” said Dukwana.

He said currently the organisation had full control of the CIPC IT system but its Query Resolution System which was used to interact with clients had to be taken down on Friday to enhance its security measures. In addition cyber security experts were still trying to isolate the information that the cyber attackers might have accessed.

“They may have gotten access to the client information; mainly company registration, co-ops, there’s a few areas actually affected.”

Dukwana said where the attackers gained access to credit cards, they would only have the card numbers but would not know who those cards belonged to.

“So we must all be vigilant so that the matter does not escalate. We are warning everybody who has transacted with us because it might affect anyone,” he said.

Dukwana said the CIPC recognised the importance of the consistent availability of its systems and the safeguarding of information that was not in the public domain, and it was working actively to minimise the impact on CIPC clients and employees.

The CIPC is a government agency and the matter has been reported to all security agencies including the police and Hawks.

Police had not responded at the time of going to print.

Sunday Tribune