The social development department's web address Population.gov.za opened to a black page with a window containing the animated graphic "Website hacked by H4ksniper" and a graphic depicting a heart rate monitor on Sunday morning.
Beneath it was the message: "Hello South Africa 😀 , Bad News For You IM BACK ! ..You Messed Wi[t]h Us & Now You Must Suffer..From Morocco with love."
The Presidential National Commission and the National Population Unit's website's were also hacked.
"H4ksniper" provided a link to the Facebook account Moroccan Haksnipx, where he was accepting messages of support.
When asked about the reasons for the attack, H4ksniper responded by email: "We all know that SA is the first supporter of the [República Árabe Saharaui Democrática] RASD and the ennemi [sic] of Morocco since a long time and we are hackers and our goal is defending our country … "
The hacker also claimed to be working alone.
According to Wikipedia, the RASD, which is also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), is a partially recognised state that claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara, but controls only about a fifth of the territory, which it calls the Liberated Territories or the Free Zone.
Morocco controls and administers the rest, which it calls its Southern Provinces.
'Not black hat hackers'
South Africa regards Western Sahara as a territory illegally occupied by Morocco and wants greater self-determination for its residents.
In an emailed response, H4ksniper described himself as being "not black hat hackers".
"We don't have evil plans on our minds. We are grey hackers and we're defending our country and our religion!"
Grey hat hacking refers to the activities of skilled hackers who disrupt websites not for personal gain, but to expose technological vulnerabilities or create public awareness about a particular issue.
Black hat hackers destroy data or spread viruses, often for no given reason.
'No sensitive information'
H4ksniper also left a message of greeting on the Facebook account Moroccan Haksnipx, apparently to other hackers.
"Greets to Aresox, M.A.S, Moroccan Hunters, Ng3r Root, All Moroccan Hackers."
Social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the department was aware of the problem.
She said the department was not concerned that the hacker could have accessed sensitive information. "No sensitive information is on the website," she said.
The site is hosted by the South African State Information Technology Agency (Sita).
" … We have logged a call with them [Sita] and we await their response on the matter," she said. The Presidential National Commission and the National Population Unit's websites were restored by 2pm. – Sapa