Government departments and security agencies in South Africa are all still scrambling to get their houses in order after news agency Al Jazeera leaked a number of diplomatic cables yesterday.
The information pertains to South Africa’s interactions with spy agencies and government departments from Iran, the UK, US and Israel, and contains some damning revelations of espionage, secret deals, military transactions and technology exports.
But the so-called #SpyCables also contain details of an infestation of spy- and malware present on many government employees’ computers.
In the document titled ‘Security Vulnerabilities in Government’ of 2009, it reveals concerns about information security vulnerabilities in the government, which was assessed as a “major risk of long-term duration”.
South Africa’s then-intelligence arm, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), conducted sweeps of employee laptops in a wide number of government departments, and the results are shocking – just one of the departments sampled for malware was the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
From the document it states: “The high prevalence of such software agents [Intrusive Software Agents] was illustrated by the results of a sampled audit at the former DFA. All personal computers sampled were found to contain spyware and remote access software. Similar software was also identified as part of the investigation at DPE [Department of Public Enterprise]”.
While mentioning the DPE, the spy cable also details similar tests conducted at the agency.
“In April 2009, a forensic analysis conducted by NIA on a laptop of a DPE official revealed the presence of eight software applications downloaded which constituted a threat not only to optimal functioning of DPE’s ICTS (Information and Communications Systems) and its business processes but also to the Intellectual Property (IP) residing in the department as it relates to parastatals, eg. ESKOM, Denel, South African Airways and Transnet.”
This is still only a small sliver of information from the spy cables that have been made public, but we expect more details to come.[Image – CC by 2.0/Michelangelo Carrieri]