MTN Nigeria server hit by suspected cyber criminals

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Media reports from Nigeria say the weekend attack on an MTN server saw the company lose R28 million (N700 million) in just under two hours, after subscribers accessed up to 120GB of free data per individual.

Nigeria is the biggest but most challenging market for the South African company, with 60 million mobile phone subscribers. The valuation of R103 billion ($7.3 billion) makes it the second biggest company by revenue listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

Reports say the newly NSE-listed company also notified the office the Nigerian Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate a suspected cyber crime offence.

MTN had not responded to ITWeb by the time of publishing.

The operator is, however, reported to have sent a text message to customers, saying: “Dear customers, our electronic and VTU recharge channels may be unavailable from 12-8 am on Sunday, 16 June. Please recharge before 12 or use a voucher or dial *904#. If a minimum of 1000 is not recharged your SIM will be barred.”

Another text was sent later: “Dear valid customers, your SIM will be temporarily barred within the next 24 hours due to the consistent use of unassigned data.”

Funso Aina, senior manager of external relations for ICT at MTN Nigeria, confirmed the problem to a Nigerian journalist via a text message.

“The system glitch reported has been resolved and erroneous allocation of data reversed on all affected accounts,” is quoted by Nigerian media.

No material effect to MTN

Telecommunications analyst Dobek Pater at Africa Analysis says it is important for telcos to protect their infrastructure from unwarranted intrusion by cyber criminals.

“As service providers, MNOs [mobile network operators] are obligated to ensure the security and privacy of customer data. If this is compromised and customer details are stolen, for instance, it could have several repercussions, from identity theft to illegal/erroneous billing to fraud,” says Pater.

“When the systems delivering services and or the billing engine are attacked, this could lead to loss of revenue for the MNO, either through inability to deliver services or inability to bill or bill accurately for services delivered.”

Pater says the weekend glitches in Nigeria had no material effect to MTN.

“I don’t think it will have that much of an impact, although it depends on the type of attack and the extent of it. Service outage does happen at various operators periodically for various reasons, therefore, inability to provide a service for a couple of hours is not an event that will necessarily sway customers’ decisions whether to stay with or move away from an operator,” he says.

However, he cautions, if customer personal data has been compromised, it could sway some customers to move away.
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