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National budget documents hacked

Vital budget documents went missing for at least two days following further cyber-attacks on Papua New Guinea’s government systems.

The national budget was supposed to be tabled in parliament last Tuesday but was delayed over government struggles with its offline payment systems that had reportedly first been hacked in October.

The ransomware hackers froze the system that controls access to millions of kina dollars that are used to pay government bills, salaries and make loan repayments.

Online hacking is becoming a sophisticated tool at attacking government’s software. Picture: 123RF

The government has refused to pay ransom money and has instead been relying on cheques to transfer money during the hold up to fix the payment system.

The latest incident follows a similar attack a month earlier that affected the fiscal resources of the government over plans for mass burials of Covid-19 victims.

That hacking of national security came in the form of a ransomware infiltering the core server.

University of Papua New Guinea economics lecturer, Maholopa Laveil, had heard reports from sub-national governments and provincial governments that they were not receiving operational funds for their day-to-day operations, which means that a number of governments were forced to scale back non-essential services.

Mr Laveil believed the problem has exposed the country to vulnerability to further Covid-19 surges over health expenditure to sub-governments, which the modelling suggests will only be available in March 2022.

He further says should the integrated financial management system continue to be affected and attacked at a bad time for a growing number of cases, it will affect the country’s ability to mitigate the next surge.

Former general manager of the national cyber security centre, Robert Potter, added that PNG needed to accept help from international partners.

He said Australia and the United States have previously been quick to assist.

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PNG Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey was set to table a 2022 K5.9 billion ($US1.7b) deficit budget, with one of its biggest annual allocations – K2.5 billion ($US 712 million) – going towards health.

But the allocated money was missing, throwing up chaos in the parliament.

“The physical frameworks, the policy framework and the summary of the budget, which is always contained in volume one, were not tabled,” former PNG treasurer Charles Abel said.

“It certainly wasn’t given to us (in) parliament.

“So, we cannot respond properly (to the budget) as the opposition.”

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