Security and other relevant authorities have commenced investigations after hackers broke into broke into Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (AMCUL) systems and stole at least Ugx30 billion. AMCUL is a subsidiary of Airtel Uganda that trades as Airtel Money Uganda.
The report of this shocking heist was first reported by CEO East Africa Magazine on Saturday evening, 29th October 2022 – with some sources very confidant with the incident reported a figure higher than 30 billion shillings stolen by the notorious hackers.
Hackers are believed to have gained access to the Airtel Money central systems and wired money to bank accounts in various banks connected to the Airtel to Bank Wallet services. The money was then evacuated via several banking agents across the country as well as mobile money agents.
A sudden spike in transactions on the accounts that were previously dormant alerted the banks and Airtel who immediately shut down the Airtel to Bank Wallet services before probing the matter.
David Birungi, the Airtel Uganda Public Relations Manager could neither deny nor confirm the incident at the time the publication made the report. He confirmed the shutdown in services described the incident as a technical glitch “with our Bank to Wallet and Bulk payments system yesterday.”
“We suspended the services, affecting some customers and partners, to allow the technical teams time to resolve the challenges,” Birungi was quoted as saying.
“We are restoring services in a phased manner. By end of the day (Saturday) All will be up and running,” he added.
Asked if the said “technical challenges” were fraudulent in nature, Mr. Birungi, simply said, “It’s too early to know if there was fraudulent intent.”
It has further been established that in due course, several mobile to bank transfer services were affected with Absa Bank Uganda and Stanbic Bank sending notices to their customers on Friday evening regarding the suspension of the services. It is not immediately clear how hackers gained access to the Airtel mobile money payment system.
According to Sydney Asubo, the Executive Director of Uganda’s Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), the financial crimes watchdog in a recent interview said that fraud, because of its lucrativeness, accounts for more than half of all the financial crimes in Uganda.
“Fraud is of course wide but it has subsets- it has corruption, theft, cybercrimes, including identity theft and embezzlement. That is number one by far. The gap between number one (fraud) and number two is so big- I would say half is fraud,” he said then.
A breach of the fast-growing mobile money system will be a blow to efforts to drive up financial inclusion in Uganda and other countries in the region.
A majority of Ugandans have no formal bank account and use mobile money because of its convenience. In some rural areas it is the only feasible option. Mobile money payments are used in agriculture, energy, health and education, among other sectors.
The Uganda Police Annual Crime and Road Safety Report of 2019 showed more than 41 billion Ugandan Shillings ($11m) was lost to criminals through cybercrimes, including swapping SIM cards and hacking digital financial accounts.