JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor and Social Development has yet to recover and bring its computer network back online after the devastating Jan. 23 Shamoon malware attack. As a result, expatriates in the Kingdom are unable to renew or transfer their residence permits (iqamas).
The scene at the Ministry of Labor’s Al-Marwah district branch at 10 a.m. Tuesday was chaotic as desperate visitors sought information on when the ministry’s computer network would be restored to full functionality.
When asked this question, a mid-level manager at the branch office threw up his hands in frustration and turned his computer around to reveal a blank screen. “This is the only thing we have been able to see on our systems for the past nine days,” he said.
When asked if he knew how much longer it would take for the ministry to restore services, his reply was “maybe a day, week, month or year.”
In order to renew an iqama, companies must pay SR650 which is the fee charged by the Jawazat or Passport Department and an additional fee of SR2,400 is charged by the Ministry of Labor. Since the Labor Ministry is experiencing a nationwide network disruption, expatriates are unable to renew their iqamas even though the Jawazat is uninfected by the crippling malware attack.
Banks have frozen the accounts of those expats who have not been able to renew their iqamas.
Seeking further answers, a trip to the Ministry of Labor’s main office in Jeddah’s Kandara district shortly before noon prayer Tuesday was even more discouraging. At the main entrance, security guards were seen waving off people, shouting: “The system is down”. When one man wanted to go inside, the guards replied: “You can go in but everyone has gone home for the day since nothing is working.”
Shamoon is known to disrupt computers by overwriting the master book record, making it impossible for them to start up, according to experts.
An alert from the telecoms authority earlier this month advised all parties to be vigilant for attacks from the Shamoon 2 variant of the virus that in 2012 crippled thousands of computers at Saudi Aramco.
Saad Al-Ali, owner of a contracting firm, told Al-Madina Arabic daily that the disruption of the ministry’s computer networks has put him and other employers in an embarrassing situation.
“For the past two weeks, all my attempts to renew iqamas of four expatriates working at my firm have failed due to the disruption of Labor ministry’s services,” he said, adding that the affected employers are afraid of facing punitive measures, including fine, jail term and recruitment ban.