Telecom giant Airtel Uganda has downplayed the disruption of some of its mobile money services, which reportedly occurred after hackers allegedly infiltrated its mobile money system and made off with huge sums of money estimated at about Shs50 billion.
Since last Thursday, when the hacking is said to have taken place, Airtel mobile wallet, a platform for banking transactions using the Airtel network, has remained inaccessible.
However, customers are able to transact on the mobile money platform without any disruptions.
In a statement, Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (AMCUL) said the bank-to-mobile money and bulk transactions have been suspended for certain partners.
“This incident has had no impact on any balances on mobile money accounts and our customers continue to enjoy all other mobile money services uninterrupted,” AMCUL said in a statement.
But David Birungi, the Airtel Uganda Public Relations Manager, in an earlier interview acknowledged that there was a technical glitch “with our Bank to Wallet and Bulk payments system,” but could not explain the cause.
“We suspended the services, affecting some customers and partners, to allow the technical teams time to resolve the challenges,” Birungi was quoted as saying early this week.
But quoting unnamed sources last Saturday, the CEO Magazine reported that the hackers 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.
They then picked up the money from banking agents and mobile money agents across the country.
The system was discovered only after banks and Airtel noticed strange huge transactions on the accounts, forcing them to immediately shut down the Airtel to Bank Wallet service.
While it is not immediately clear how hackers gained access to the Airtel mobile money payment system, sources have intimated to this website that it could be the work of former staff. We could not independently confirm this allegation.
The Uganda Police Annual Crime and Road Safety Report of 2019 showed more than 41 billion Ugandan Shillings ($11m) was lost to criminals through cyber crimes including swapping SIM cards and hacking digital financial accounts last year.
In 2020, between October 2 and 3, hackers accessed the system run by Pegasus technologies, an aggregator of MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, Stanbic Bank and Bank of Africa, causing a loss of Shs11 billion according to the CID