South African Government Data: Stolen due to Ineffective Data Protection

The recent theft of laptops and desktops from the South African State Security Agency’s top offices – including the theft of intelligence Minister, Siyabong Cwele’s, laptop containing extremely sensitive information, has created massive public concern around the agency’s data protection practices. SA Government data protection is not under scrutiny, with Auditor General reports citing lack of effective data protection solutions as an important government consideration.

The burglary happened a few weeks ago in Pretoria, when the Bogare building in Menlyn (which houses top State Security Agency offices) was infiltrated, resulting in the theft of confidential data.

Intelligence spokesperson, Brian Dube, confirmed the break-in, stating that the Security Agency and police were investigating the incident and that the Agency would prefer not to speculate on the motive(s) behind the crime. He refused to disclose further details at the time.

This incident follows a serious fire started at the SA Revenue Services offices in Durban, which also houses the State Security Agency on the top floor. Business LIVE reported that insiders believed the fire was no accident, and that the target was the provincial head office of the State Security Agency. SA Government data protection is an Auditor General requirement.

2011 Data Loss Survey Results

Public Concern around SA Government Data Protection Failings

The inability of the agency to protect State Information and confidential data, and the sensitivity of the information that’s been lost due to these incidents, have left many members of the public questioning why this data was not better protected. The SA public is concerned that SA Government data protection is not a high enough priority for departments, especially considering the confidential nature of this data.

There are multiple regulations around Data Protection requiring South African companies to take responsibility for the protection of their data – with the consequences of data loss becoming increasingly severe.

Information is the new currency

Company secrets, resources and knowledge bases have become exceptionally valuable – and the loss of this sensitive information can lead to massive reputational damage, hefty financial penalties or even incarceration.

Read about South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Law

While South Africa struggles towards aligning its data protection legislation with that of the rest of the world and, particularly, the UK and the USA, with Acts such as the Protection of Personal Information Bill (PPI) – the effective protection of information has become an increasingly topical issue for the South African population. SA Government data protection needs to be addressed.

This incident further increases the public’s concern around the Intelligence Minister’s information being ineffectively protected, and now, compromised – as South Africans gain greater insight into how vital protecting data really is.

Data Loss: The Bigger Picture

The consequences around SA Government data protection and the requirements for SA private organisations are no longer blurred.

It is globally understood that data is the new currency, and that compromised data can have detrimental consequences for companies (and their board members).
How organisations, governments and individuals protect their data is a paramount consideration.

With estimate costs of a lost or stolen laptop reaching up to Millions of Rands (Ponemon Institute report) and the obvious risks around dissemination of confidential information, it is clear that the State Security Agency needs to set an example for other Governmental departments and the South African public, and ensure that confidential data is better protected against future attacks.

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