South Africa: City Power hit by ransomware

July 27, 2019 • Security, Southern Africa

On Thursday, 25 July 2019, Johannesburg residents woke up to bleak news that power utility, City Power had been hit by a ransomware attack. The power utility stated via Twitter that the attack has compromised its web server, databases, applications and network. This essentially means that until their IT department can resolve the issue, customers could not buy electricity, upload invoices or access the City Power website.

In a series of tweets, the company explained the attack to users.

This latest attack is testament to the proliferation of cyber attacks on state utilities, governments, and businesses of all sizes.

According to Aaron Thornton, Managing Director of local IT consultancy Dial a Nerd, ransomware is one of the most commonly employed forms of cyber attack today. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts there will be a ransomware attack on businesses every 14 seconds by the end of 2019, up from every 40 seconds in 2016.

“Ransomware is a malicious software virus that infects a computer, network or data,” Thornton explains. “During the infection, your computer will either be locked or your data encrypted and held hostage…and the only way you can regain access is by paying a ‘ransom.’”

He adds that although malware such as ransomware is not a new phenomenon, it has become increasingly widespread and invasive in recent years.

Business leaders beware

The attack on City Power should undoubtedly serve as a strong warning to business leaders, and individuals, to take immediate steps to secure their online environments and IT infrastructure.

“The first is to practice proper email management,” cautions Thornton. “Avoid opening any suspicious-looking emails. Be cautious of clicking links or opening attachments in emails you are not familiar with. This is the easiest way for malware to infect your electronic device.”

In addition, always use reputable anti-virus software. Some ransomware strains have been so creative as to mimic anti-virus software interfaces and fool the victim to “run a security scan”. With this in mind, be sure that you use a trustworthy security software provider.

“The number one piece of advice that anti-ransomware specialists offer is to back up all data, outside of your own Local Area Network (LAN),” adds Thornton. “It is critical that you can recover an entire system and that your backup is isolated from your network to keep it safe from the infection.”

For frustrated residents, however, the only response to City Power is to hurry up and wait!

Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko
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