The most damning allegations in the interim interdict obtained by Pep/Star against four ex-Tekkie Town (ex-TT) executives and some of their companies (see more) relate to a recorded phone call urging an IT employee, Werner de Bruin, to hack into the server from a store in George to disrupt the Tekkie Town point of sale system. They further said that a subsequent breach of the system on July 2, which caused a temporary disruption, is not only proof that this is possible, but also showed that the respondents were trying to sabotage the system. An urgent court order was therefore needed to stop them.
A detailed affidavit by Willem Wait, the ex-TT Chief Information Officer, paints a somewhat different picture. His response, peppered with words like misrepresented and false, states the facts as follows:
- The recorded phone message, submitted as proof of an orchestrated sabotage plan with a code name et al, was nothing more than a somewhat inebriated prank played on his (now ex) friend, De Bruin – mainly to test in which camp his loyalty lay.
- It was obviously a set-up as it is impossible to sabotage the whole store system from a single store in George, as De Bruin repeatedly claimed. Wait testified that even if they could convince a branch employee to use his credentials to penetrate the system, the access granted to a mere branch employee cannot cause damage to the system. Besides, he called De Bruin the following morning (July 1), before the branches opened, to make sure he didn’t try to implement the plan.
- The main reason why Wait said they would have been unable to disrupt the system on July 2, as claimed, is because on June 28 he and colleague Anton Roetz personally handed over all their administrator credentials, including domain usernames, passwords, etc., to the new IT team sent by Pep/Star. During what he describes as a hostile meeting, the new team took full control of the system. The protocol required them to immediately change the domain credentials and system administrator access enjoyed by Wait and Roetz – effectively locking them out of the system.
Before granting the interim interdict, the judge asked for proof that the TT system was under attack from Roetz and Wait. Star Speciality network expert Eben Bothma subsequently showed the court that an unauthorised IP address made numerous attempts to breach the security on July 2, which did disrupt the system.
“Such attacks are commonplace and everyday on almost every system,” Wait responded. Roetz added that there are on average 1 000 unique attacks on the TT server per month.
In a further affidavit, independent expert Roshan Harneker, UCT’s Senior Manager: Information and Cybersecurity Services, explained that the IP address Bothma alleged was used by the ex-TT four in a subsequent cyber-attack on the server, was in fact:
- reported for abuse in cyber-attacks in Romania and Indonesia on similar servers on three occasions around the same time … and that Bothma had not taken any steps to try and verify who this IP address belonged to. According to the American Registry for Internet Numbers it was allocated to Alibaba at the time.
- Contrary to the allegation that the Tekkie Town internet system was unique and developed by Wait – in other words, he was the only person who would have known how to penetrate the system – she supplied documentation showing that this Mikrotik server system is commonly used by thousands of companies across the world.
- The data loop that occurred after the attempted breach by the above IP address, could possibly have been caused by Bothma himself, she rather embarrassingly testified – and does not indicate deliberate sabotage. “Bothma is not certified to use Mikrotik, which is a difficult system to use; it is easy for an inexperienced user to cause damage to the software or hardware,” Wait said in his affidavit.
The sabotage plan allegations initially sounded believable because they came from whistle-blower De Bruin, who claims he had a change of heart when he realised to what lengths his former friends and colleagues would go to damage Tekkie Town. He subsequently decided to come clean, without being offered any compensation. Several things, however, rather suggest that he did a dirty on his former mates:
- De Bruin was visibly upset when he heard that Wait had turned down an offer by Pep/Star to name his price to stay, without informing other employees that there was a chance to make money. A copy of a WhatsApp message attached to the affidavit shows that De Bruin boasted about subsequently negotiating a deal with Pep/Star provided he returned to the fold. He told lawyer Justin Whitehead that he was offered a 24-month salary bonus on top of his monthly salary.
- There is no evidence that De Bruin was instructed to buy hard drives and computers with Mostert’s credit card as he alleged, nor was he instructed to copy Tekkie Town data, as he alleged in his affidavit. An image of the list he was given shows it was only non-TT data.
Read next: Campaign to cripple Tekkie Town?