Lukanyo Mnyanda Editor: Business Day

Standard Bank, the continent’s largest bank by assets, has said some of its clients are among victims of a data breach at one of the world’s top credit bureaus, while FNB and African Bank also warned their customers to be vigilant.

The hack of Experian SA exposed some personal information of as many as 24-million South Africans and almost 800,000 businesses, the SA Banking Risk Centre (Sabric), a non-profit organisation set up by major lenders to combat bank-related organised crime, said in a statement on Wednesday.

It said it is co-operating with individual banks and Experian to secure data and apprehend the perpetrators.

Experian said no consumer credit or financial information was obtained and that the suspect had planned to use the information to offer insurance and credit-related services.

“We have proactively stepped up our authentication processes and our fraud prevention and detection strategies to protect our clients,” Standard Bank said in a statement, adding that it couldn’t give more details because its measures are “security sensitive”.

FNB said it was communicating directly with customers that may have been affected while African Bank said although personal details had been accessed, banking details had not. Both warned customers to monitor their accounts for any suspicious activity.

The breach at Experian, which collects credit data about clients from banks and other businesses, came two days after one of the country’s top insurers, Momentum Metropolitan, said it had suffered a data breach, though it said investigations indicate that no client data was accessed.

Information accessed on August 13 included administrative and financial data, it said.

In what was then described as SA’s “biggest breach yet”, Liberty Holdings, the insurance company majority-owned by Standard Bank, was hit in June 2018 by what it called “unauthorised access” to its IT infrastructure. The company said then it had refused to give in to extortion attempts by hackers.

A heightened dependence on digital tools as businesses and organisations expand work-from-home policies, individuals’ social interaction happening more online and governments using the internet for communication has increased the risk of cyber-attacks, the World Economic Forum said in March.

Banks submit and collect data from bureaus such as Experian to help them assess the clients’ ability to pay back loans, or when buying goods and services on credit. Equifax, one of the US’s biggest credit checking companies, agreed to pay $700m to settle investigations on its handling of a data breach that affected more than 50% of Americans.

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