Hackers steal billions in mobile money heist

Tuesday October 06 2020
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The two telecom companies said they had temporarily suspended mobile money transactions

By Christine Kasemiire
By David Vosh Ajuna

Mobile payment service providers and digital payment systems are counting billions in lost cash after hackers hit a third party payment technology company.

Daily Monitor could not readily establish the extent of the theft but sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter said billions of shillings were lost and that the hack extends beyond telecoms and banks to utility payment systems, among others that use Pegasus Technologies as a transaction aggregator. 

MTN and Airtel, which control at least more than 90 per cent of the mobile money market hold escrow accounts with Stanbic Bank and the two telecoms are believed to have been the biggest victims of the hack.

In a joint statement Monday, signed by MTN, Airtel and Stanbic Bank the three companies said there had been a system incident in which hackers had accessed systems of a third party service provider (Pegasus Technologies) thus impacting all bank to mobile money or wallet transactions.

The incident, which is believed to have started last Thursday and gone through the weekend, yesterday forced mobile money service providers to suspend bank to mobile money or wallet transactions.

“Stanbic Bank, MTN and Airtel inform the public and their customers that on Saturday, a third party service provider experienced a system incident which impacted bank to mobile money transactions. All bank to mobile money [or] wallet services have since been temporarily suspended,” the statement read in part. 

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However, the companies indicated that “the system incident has had no impact on any balances on both bank and mobile money accounts”.

Police on Tuesday told Daily Monitor they had launched investigations into the alleged theft.

CID spokesperson Charles Twine, said they had been briefed about the incident but were still analysising the extent of the hack.

“We have commenced investigations today. However, we need some time to dissect the matter,” he said.

Al though no details have been provided, the hackers are believed to operate from Eastern Europe with collaborations in the local systems. 

The incident that is believed to involve a number of other companies has Pegasus Technologies as the link.

The technology company is an aggregator for inter mobile money service thus it links mobile money services between MTN and Airtel. 

Pegasus also provides financial services for Stanbic Bank’s mobile banking platform, FlexiPay. 



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