SA child support payment system crashed – due to corrupted data and bad backups, Justice Department says

  • South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development uses the MojaPay system to process child support payments.
  • The system crashed in September 2021 due to a ransomware attack on the department.
  • However, shortly after the system launched nationwide in early 2020, a much longer outage occurred.
  • Now, two years later, it has emerged that this “major outage” was caused by data corruption attributed to “human error”.
  • The fact that the ministry’s data was not properly backed up contributed to delays in restoring the system and left dependents in the lurch.
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The centralized system used to facilitate child support payments in South Africa has suffered a few setbacks since its inception, with a 2020 crash attributed to corrupt data and improper backups.

The South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD) uses the MojaPay system to process child support payments. This centralized financial management enables citizens to receive the money directly into their bank accounts, saving the time and expense of visiting service points.

And while this system should make things easier for child support payments owed since the provinces fully migrated to MojaPay in early 2020, it didn’t go smoothly. Each court must submit payment plans into the system, which are then delivered to and managed by MojaPay at the national level.

The recent system outage in September 2021 impacted thousands of beneficiaries. That crash stemmed from a highly publicized ransomware attack on the DOJ&CD that delayed payments and forced the department to use an “alternative email system” to coordinate a crisis response plan.

Almost two weeks after the ransomware attack was first publicized, the department reported that “some functionality of the MojaPay system had been restored” and “most maintenance payments had been settled.”

The attack on DOJ&CD’s IT system was not the first time MojaPay had been compromised, and as a result payments to child dependents were delayed.

In May 2020, shortly after its launch as the ministry’s new payment system, MojaPay suffered a “major outage”. The downtime lasted much longer than the September 2021 incident.

“Our MojaPay system has had some challenges for a few months,” noted Minister Ronald Lamola during a budget vote policy statement in late July 2020.

“The system has been made fully operational again and arrears are being processed. We commissioned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to assist and conduct a forensic investigation to determine what caused the bugs in the system. If they are found to have had human intervention in the failure, rest assured that those involved will not be spared accountability.”

The results of this investigation were only recently announced by Lamola in response to a parliamentary question from Democratic Alliance member Werner Horn.

Lamola revealed that the CSIR did not lead the investigation, and it was ultimately up to the DOJ&CD itself to “determine root cause through the department’s major incident process.” This “was duly carried out and completed”.

The minister outlined the technical specifications of what was happening leading up to the major outage that delayed payments by months.

The “root cause,” according to Lamola, was “data corruption” caused by human error, causing the service provider’s database administrator to choose an “incorrect option in the client copy process.” This caused the production server to crash,” replied Lamola.

To make matters worse, the MojaPay system took longer than originally expected to restore the MojaPay system due to poor data backups.

“The solution could not be restored according to prescribed disaster recovery schedules, mainly due to incomplete backups (system failures on backups), which resulted in delays in getting the system up and running,” said Lamola.

“In order to reduce recovery times, a process of copying the data on the servers to external hard drives had to be performed in order to recover the data.”

In order to prevent this type of system failure from happening again, the minister pointed out that regular, scheduled backup recovery tests would be carried out and backup processes “optimized”.


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