Panic: MTN, Airtel, Stanbic Bank Mobile Money Services Closed After Losing Billions To Hackers

Panic: MTN, Airtel, Stanbic Bank Mobile Money Services Closed After Losing Billions To Hackers

By Frank Kamuntu

Kampala – The latest news from a couple of Ugandan telecommunication giants and financial companies is that they are nursing wounds of losses following an incident where hackers broke into systems of mobile money and withdrew Ugandan shillings suspected to be in billions.

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TheSpy Uganda has learnt that among the most affected firms are telecommunication companies; Airtel, MTN Uganda and Stanbic Bank Uganda’s which is also one of the financial institutions that operate under the mobile money services.

CEOs Not Atease Atall: L-R: Anne Juuko, Wim Vanhelleputte, and VG Somasekhar, CEOs of Stanbic Bank Uganda, MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda respectively

According to a joint statement released yesterday, 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”, although they didn’t divulge into details but promised that their technical team were handling the matter with utmost urgency.

The statement reads, “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.”

It adds, “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.”
Joint Statement On Closure Of Systems

However, a source at one of the affected companies told this reporter that hackers broke into the system of Pegasus Technologies who handles MTN to Airtel and Airtel to MTN transactions as well as the respective telecommunication to bank payments on Thursday night.

“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 has detected all transactions going through Pegasus Technologies, were suspended,” said the source.

Further, the source revealed “Hackers usually target financial institutions over weekends when there are less activity and reduced vigilance. It is easy to strike, withdraw the cash and cover-up by the time the weekend is over.”

The incident follows another one in 2019 where unidentified people believed to be crafty MTN Uganda staff manipulated the mobile money system– and stole up to UGX100m on Easter Monday.

In addition, recently, a number of people stormed MTN offices, claiming that big sums of money were withdrawn from their Mobile Money accounts without their consent, putting the Telecom giant MTN Uganda in the spotlight.

In 2016, MTN was accused of creating fake money value to the tune of UGX21b, which was transferred to its mobile money shops. It was further alleged that MTN created an entity called ‘MTN Corporate Liquid Fund’ as a super-agent for transactions which were a form of illegal overdrawing of its e-accounts.

However, MTN Uganda later said the fictitious UGX21 billion was orchestrated by fraudulent staff and not sanctioned by the telecom company.

“Our staff created false value, they then went to normal existing agents who colluded with them to go and demand money. They deposited this float to an agent. The agent went to Stanbic Bank and said; ‘you see I have this transaction from MTN, can you pay me?’ Stanbic paid them,” the company said in a statement.

On thereotherhand, earlier 2020, in the case filed before Commercial Court in Kampala, three people sued Airtel Uganda Limited for allegedly deducting their airtime credit for unanswered calls yet the persons they called didn’t activate their voicemail.

Three people; David Bala Bwiruka, Rebecca Nambi and Brian Otim sued the telecom giant contending that the illegal deductions every time they called Amanyire greatly inconvenienced and disrupted the progress of their work projects resulting in failure to achieve their targets, emotional and financial stress for which they sought punitive and general damages.

“The plaintiffs will aver and contend that the first defendant (Airtel Uganda) breached its core value of acting with integrity, transparency and accountability when it claimed they could not trace the call data records in regard to the second plaintiff and yet there are screenshots to show the messages sent by the first defendant’s network to the second plaintiff’s phone deducting airtime for her phone,” read the complaint.

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