Hackers shared their programs in protest against the “unfair system”. Photo / Unsplash, Kevin Ku
“Hacktivists” and programmers publish software to help Kiwis find valuable places in managed isolation and quarantine. However, the government’s cybersecurity agency CERTNZ has warned New Zealanders not to download software from unknown sources.
Tools have been appearing in forums and on websites since the beginning of the year that explicitly serve to support travelers with booking vouchers in MIQ. These range from browser plugins that warn travelers when storage space becomes free in MIQ to “bots” or automated programs that claim to be able to reserve seats on behalf of travelers.
A publisher currently based in Germany said it knew of similar programs that help travelers navigate the MIQ booking system, but very few were publicly available.
He built the program to help his partner return home in March while the demand for vouchers increased.
“When she had to travel back to New Zealand, we realized how difficult it would be to get a place at MIQ.”
Because spaces in the managed isolation were very limited, the ethics in using the software were difficult to justify.
“For me it was a matter of course to release the software for everyone. Ideally, the MIQ website should of course be structured in such a way that no tools like this are required. “
The UI designer and programmer, who was previously based in Wellington, knew how many people struggled to return to New Zealand and how few had the skills to bypass the current system.
“Hopefully the release will make it fairer for everyone.”
In a response to the Herald, MIQ said it was aware of “an incredibly small number” of programmatically booked seats.
It should be noted that there is a difference between bots getting an actual booking – for which we see almost no evidence – and the type of script that tells people that a seat has become vacant, said Brigadier Rose King , Joint Head of MIQ. “These publicly available notification services do not book vouchers on behalf of subscribers; they still have to register and book themselves.”
At this time, the tools have received limited ratings and engagement, mostly from programmers and IT professionals.
However, some travelers report being approached by programmers offering their safe room services.
One such traveler, Danie Oosthuizen, said he was offered help by a hacker at MIQ in January when he was trying to secure vouchers for his wife and three children.
“He wasn’t asking anything in return, just anonymity,” said Oosthuizen, who said the programmer was doing this to protest the injustice of the system.
Oosthuizen said he knew at least four other families the hacker had helped since the encounter. The program reportedly “mimicked a human” to bypass detection and reserve vouchers “based on family or individual needs.”
It was clear to Oosthuizen that he turned down the offer.
Despite being separated from his family, who remained in South Africa for more than seven months, as a foreign worker with a visa, he feared that his right to work in New Zealand would be compromised.
“I could be deported, I would have to stay out of the country for at least five years … and if I wanted to go to another destination it will be on my file forever,” he said. “I want to make it fair.”
The lack of transparency about the allocation of places and the ways in which other MIQ places were secured had increased the attractiveness of other job offers in countries that are easier to travel to.
“It would mean going to a place that would have been my second choice for work, but I would be able to see my family.”
In the seven months he’s trying to secure the trip for his family, he’s already missed the first birthdays of his twin sons.
“It’s family time and milestones I’ll never get back.”