MTN and Airtel Uganda Suspend Mobile Money Services After Massive Hack

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Telecom giants, MTN and Airtel Uganda have temporarily suspended all mobile money service transactions between their networks after unidentified hackers compromised their systems.

MTN, Airtel and Stanbic Bank Uganda are said to be the biggest casualties of the attack. The hackers broke into the system of Pegasus Technologies, a third-party integrating service provider which links the mobile money systems of telecom companies with banks, and reportedly siphoned billions of shillings from MTN, Airtel and Stanbic Bank Uganda.

MTN Uganda (55%) and Airtel Uganda (35%) possess a combined 90% of the mobile money market share in the country and hold escrow accounts with Stanbic Bank Uganda which facilitates majority of the mobile money transactions. Unconfirmed reports claim that Airtel may have lost over 1.5 billion shillings while MTN might have lost about twice that amount after the hack.

MTN and Airtel Uganda Suspend Mobile Money Services Between Networks After Massive Systems Hack
VG Somasekhar, Managing Director Airtel Uganda

Following the Pegasus system hack, MTN, Airtel and Stanbic Bank Uganda have moved to shut down all bank to mobile money/e-wallet services among them. In a joint statement signed by Wim Vanhelleputte, VG Somasekhar and Anne Juuko, the CEOs of MTN, Airtel and Stanbic Bank Uganda respectively, the companies acknowledged the hack but did not disclose details of the incident.

Stanbic Bank Uganda, MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda inform the public and their customers that on Saturday 3 October 2020, a third-party service provider experienced a system incident which impacted bank to mobile money transactions. All bank to mobile money/wallet services have since been temporarily suspended.

Joint statement from MTN/Airtel/Stanbic Bank Uganda

Many MTN and Airtel customers reported experiencing recurrent transaction glitches over the weekend as the hackers allegedly withdrew money from several mobile money agents across the country.

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A System hacker

However, the telcos and the bank have assured customers that the incident did not affect their mobile money or bank account balances. The companies also apologised to customers for the inconvenience brought about by the hack and promised to restore services as soon as possible.

“Our technical teams are analysing the incident and will restore services as soon as possible. We apologise to all customers for any inconvenience that this has caused and reiterate our commitment to delivering seamless banking and mobile money services,” the joint statement reads.

Pegasus Technologies aggregates mobile money transactions between MTN and Airtel Uganda. Stanbic Bank’s mobile banking platform, FlexiPay is also powered by Pegasus.

The company’s e-payment platform, PegPay caters to several financial institutions including banks, telcos, e-retailers and Pay TV operators. Other payment processing companies linked to Pegasus were also reportedly affected by the hack incident.

Pegasus Technologies has declined to comment on the incident so far.

Summary

Although inter-network mobile money transactions between MTN and Airtel Uganda customers have been suspended in the meantime, intra-network mobile money services among MTN Uganda or Airtel Uganda subscribers continues to be active.

Of Uganda’s 46 million people, MTN Uganda has over 13 million subscribers and Airtel Uganda possesses about 10 million subscribers. Due to the hacking incident, subscribers may start to harbor doubts regarding the security of their mobile money/bank accounts.

Therefore, MTN and Airtel Uganda will be very keen to regain customer confidence by quickly resolving this incident and preventing a repeat.


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