Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kenyan Firm in the Mix As Malawi E-passport System is “Hacked”

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President Lazarus Chakwera says Malawi government will not bow down to those who have hacked the Department of Immigration passport printing system to pay the demanded ransom. He made these remarks before responding to questions by Members of Parliament in the National Assembly. The Malawi E-passport system has allegedly been held captive by hackers.

Last month on January 24, the Immigration Department stopped printing passports citing technical interruptions at its passport issuance system. Kenya has also been facing challenges in issuing Passports and national IDs. Futhermore, issuance of driving license cards in Malawi was halted last year due to a lack of printing cards.

President Chakwera assured Malawians that the Department of Immigration will soon start issuing passports. He gave a directive to the department to provide a temporary fix and resume printing passports within 3 weeks. He also mentioned the department is developing a long-term solution with safeguards acknowledging this is a serious national security issue.

Criticallly, Malawi will not pay the ransom and investigation into the threat actors is underway.

“I want to send a strong message to the hackers that we will not pay a ransom. We have launched an investigation to track you and when we track you there will be no mercy.” stated the President.

Kenyan IT Firm Contract

While the government points to the unknown hackers, the hitch could be tied to a controversial contract termination. In December 2021, the Malawi government terminated its contract with Techno Brain Limited to upgrade the passport issuance system.

We must always do the right thing, no matter what it takes. As a country, we have a duty to ensure that we safeguard public funds from plunder. As a government, everything we do must be done with the people at the centre of it because we serve the people,” said Malawi Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda.

Techno Brain Global insists that it did not flout any process to win the Malawi e-Passport contract, saying it submitted a bid in response to an international bidding process following stringent and compliance procedures.

The $60.8m contract was awarded by the previous government in 2019. Currently, the hitch that the government is attributing to hackers could actually be denial of access. While not stated by either party, Techno Brain appears to have locked the government out of the passport system.

Previously, the Malawian government had some Admin rights. A resolution to this dispute could be the solution to the system “hack”.

Techno Brain World Bank Ban

Malawi’s decision came after the World Bank had banned the Kenyan Tech company and it’s UAE based parent company due to fraud in an Integrated Public Financial Management Reform Project in Liberia. Malawi is not an economic giant and often depends on World Bank aid. In 2023, a $60 million grant was needed to avert acute shortages of critical commodities.

The Malawi e-passport contract included the implementation of a new electronic passport system, with 800,000 electronic passports to be provided under the “build, operate, and transfer” model. However, it came to light that Malawians were being overcharged, as the government was making a profit of K30,000(KES 1800) to K117,000 (KES 7020) on each passport issued by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, primarily due to inflated prices.

This January, amidst the controversy surrounding the electronic passport deal, Techno Brain released a statement pleading for the restoration of the terminated contract. They argued that the project was mutually beneficial for both parties, highlighting their contributions to Malawi’s passport system. Specifically, they emphasized the vital groundwork they laid, such as staff training, and presented the possibility of resuming the project as a “win-win” scenario.

It’s worth noting the October 2020 ban by the World Bank expires this month.

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