MTN Uganda, one of the giant telecoms in the country has announced a planned system shutdown in the wee hours of Tuesday in a bid to conduct an audit of the stolen billions of shillings in a mega sophisticated heist executed by hackers over the weekend.
According to available information, the money stolen could amount to shs 10 billion, although officials remain tight-lipped.
In a communication issued by MTN to all its phone users, the shutdown which the telecom preferred to call an upgrade will last for 3 hours.
During this time, no service will be available.
“Y’ello! There will be a planned system upgrade on 6th Oct 2020 from 00:00Hrs to 03:00AM . During this period, data, voice and MoMo services will be interrupted,” the MTN message reads.
Hackers broke into mobile money integrator system and made off off with unspecified billions belonging Airtel, MTN, Stanbic, and other financial institutions
Unidentified hackers broke into the systems of Pegasus Technologies, a company that integrates mobile money transactions between telcos, banks, and other local, regional, and international money transfer services, making off with a yet to be known sum, but said to be in billions of Shillings.
The most affected firms are the leading telecoms, Airtel and MTN Uganda, as well as Stanbic Bank, Uganda’s largest bank that also backs up most of the mobile money transactions.
In a joint statement released 5th October 2020, Anne Juuko, Wim Vanhelleputte, and VG Somasekhar, the CEOs of Stanbic Bank Uganda, MTN Uganda, and Airtel Uganda respectively, admitted there was an “incident”, but did not give details.
“Stanbic Bank Uganda, MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda inform the public and their customers that on Saturday 3 October 2020, a third-party service provider experienced a system incident which impacted Bank to Mobile Money transactions. All Bank to Mobile Money/Wallet services have since been temporarily suspended,” the trio said.
“This system incident has had no impact on any balances on both Bank and Mobile Money accounts. Our technical teams are analysing the incident and will restore services as soon as possible. We apologise to all customers for any inconvenience that this has caused and reiterate our commitment to delivering seamless banking and mobile money services,” they added.
Ronald Azairwe, Managing Director Pegasus Technologies Limited, could neither deny nor confirm the incident.
“Sadly I can’t comment on that. I can’t confirm or deny anything of the sort. I can’t speak about it. MTN/Stanbic/Airtel should be able to tell you whether it is Pegasus or not,” he told this reporter on phone.
But Twiine Charles, the Criminal Investigations Directorate spokesperson confirmed to CEO East Africa Magazine that an electronic fraud incident had been reported to police.
“The fraud incident has been reported. We are constituting a team of electronic countermeasures investigators and investigations begin effective tomorrow,” he said.
Reports indicate that hackers broke into the system of Pegasus Technologies who handles MTN to Airtel and Airtel to MTN transactions as well as the respective telco to bank payments on Thursday night. Pegasus also handles Stanbic Bank’s Flexipay, a cashless solution that allows the bank’s customers to pay for goods and services via mobile money.
“From Thursday night, the hack went on undetected until Saturday. By this time, hackers had sent themselves almost UGX1.3 billion but had managed to withdraw UGX900 million from Airtel Money. We estimate MTN also lost almost twice the same amount of money since they are mobile money leaders. When the fraud was detected all transactions going through Pegasus Technologies, were suspended,” media reports suggested.
Established in 2007, Pegasus handles up to UGX1.7 trillion in financial transactions annually. This includes mobile money aggregation, mobile payments and remittances, loans and savings, and value-added services such as SMS, airtime, and data loading. Its flagship product, PegPay payments platform, is currently being used by several institutions including banks, telecoms, and utility companies such, retailers, Pay-Tv providers’ and schools, to aggregate and manage financial transactions for both internal and external purposes.