In a coordinated series of cyber attacks against key South African state agencies, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is the latest casualty of a targeted ransomware attack.

In a statement issued by the Justice Department, the department confirms that its IT systems are currently down country-wide due to a security breach linked to ransomware launched Monday, 6 September, against their networks.

Ransomware is a form of malware deployed by cybercriminals to encrypt a victim's data, in such a manner that the victim does not have access to their data. Ransomware attacks are usually followed by ransom notes, sent by the criminal seeking a ransom amount to decrypt data, so victims can regain access to data.

The cyberattack has completely halted all electronic services at department offices and courts. Emails & department websites are completely offline. Protection orders, bail services, issuing of letters of authority, and applications are done through the justice department's system. The burden to continue providing these services increases the cost of justice.

Stenography is a process used in courts for record-keeping. Stenography records and archives how court proceedings unfolded. The process also assists judges in writing judgments, the court further uses records captured by stenographers when matters are taken on appeal or review. Stenography in courts is an electronic process, the ransomware attack not only forces courts to now use analog mechanisms to record court matters but also threatens the integrity of court records.

Virtual Courts

Virtual court proceedings, a new format to hear cases, is part of the justice department's digital transformation strategy to guarantee access to justice, in light of covid-19 restrictions. Virtual courts are accessed through links sent via the justice department. Only the Registrar of the justice department is empowered to issue links to virtual courts. With IT systems not accessible, proceedings via virtual courts are not possible.

Legal practitioner at Podbielski Attorneys, Tumelo Rapitsi, remarked that “ weeks before a scheduled trial, a court roll is prepared by officials, and documentation that is relied on for this exercise is found on the intranet of the justice department & website. If court officials cannot access their websites, the increase in time and cost is passed onto our clients".

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