From January, payment through e-albania: How will the scheme work and how safe is it?*

rom May 1 of last year, after several announcements made in advance, the vast majority of counters in the country were closed and public services are now offered online through the e-Albania portal.

Five days later, Prime Minister Edi Rama gathered the heads of the banks to hold them accountable as to why they were taking so long “to join the digital revolution”, as the head of government himself said.

In the meeting held the Prime Minister, Rama, the head of AKSHI, Mirlinda Karçanaj, the Minister of Finance, Delina Ibrahimaj, and the Governor of the Bank of Albania, Gent Sejko, announced that a meeting would be set up between the institutions involved and representatives of the banks working group that would deal with the technical details to create the conditions for citizens to make payments for public services directly from e-Albania to avoid physical presence at counters and lines as a consequence.

It has already been announced that from the beginning of this year, citizens and businesses will be able to pay online, for the public services provided by the e-Albania portal that are paid, or even to pay off obligations in the state.

The news was accompanied by fear and confusion considering that state systems have been attacked by a group of Iranian hackers, who publish sensitive data of citizens almost every week in a group created on Telegram, “Homeland Justice”.

However, apparently, with as much data as has been made public, the process will be safe. In an announcement made on November 22 of the previous year, AKSHI clarified to the citizens that the e-Albania platform will not have anything to do with bank data. So, the process of receiving the service and paying for it is carried out on two completely different platforms.

The same is said by representatives of second-tier banks and cyber security experts.

Spiro Brumbulli, Secretary General of the Albanian Association of Bank

Spiro Brumbulli, Secretary General of the Association of Banks emphasizes that e-Albania will not have any access to the bank data of citizens or businesses that will use the service. What is being built, according to Mr. Brumbulli, is a communication bridge between AKSHI, as a representative of all public institutions, and banks.

As the  Secretary General of the Association of Banks explains, the scheme that will be applied is this:

  • The citizen logs into his e-Albania account and chooses the service he will receive. After fulfilling all the requirements that e-Albania has for the service, a question will be presented at the end: Will you make the payment through banks? Choose up to three of the banks where you think you will make the payment.
  • The citizen sets the names of the banks, says that he will pay by the bank, and exits his account in e-Albania.
  • It is then entered via computer, tablet, or smartphone into his bank account. On the page of his bank account, a menu will appear: e-Albania and there he will look for the code with which he applied for the service he must receive and that AKSHI has provided him with an SSN of special (Social Security Number: a code, a number), enter that code and at the moment all the data that he has filled in to make the payment will be downloaded.
  • More specifically: The type of service you want to receive, the date when the application was made, the time, the amount you have to pay, the currency you will use to make the payment, and select the “pay” option.
  • When the “pay” option is selected, the money from his account is transferred to the corresponding account of the public institution that must issue the document or provide the service to the citizen.
  • The process consists of two steps. Part of the process is carried out in e-Albania and the rest is through e-banking.
  • The bank undertakes to confirm with AKSHI that the payment for this SSN (for this type of application, for this amount) has been made. So, AKSHI and banks communicate through a “web service” technology on how information should flow from one to the other.

“Web Service”, according to experts in the field, is software that allows communication and exchange of information or data between two different systems on the network (Internet).

But there is no integration, there is no access to the data of one party or the other. Not, the misunderstanding that has been created in the market is understandable because the issue is sensitive. We have been very rigorous from the beginning in all the efforts we have tried to build with AKSHI to carry out this part of public services digitally, but without compromising in any case, for any reason, the security of banking data,” he explains.

With this scheme, according to bank representatives and experts, even if state systems were to be hacked again, citizens’ bank data would be safe.

“The filters are secured because the citizen will continue with the same security as he enters his account today. So there is no touch. And if e-Albania is hacked again, it has nothing to do with touching the bank’s system because it is only the transmission of information from AKSHI to the bank. We are not dealing with receiving data, nor with accessing the account, or the database of one party or the other.”

Spiro Brumbulli

If there will be commission fees for payment services made through e-Albania, this will depend on the policies of each bank. According to the policy of the Bank of Albania, up to 22 thousand ALL, there is no commission in online services.

Besmir Semanaj, cyber security expert

Even the cyber security expert, Besmir Semanaj says that if the scheme explained above is the one that will be applied, then there will be no risk to the security of citizens’ bank data.

According to him, the security will again fall on the banks since the transfer actions will not be carried out by e-Albania.

“There, the bank will simply be selected and the bill will be sent to the bank automatically. People will again do it from their e-banking. It is understood that this is a relief for the citizens because they will not need to go to the counters This payment could also be done after the invoice is generated by e-banking, but the advantage of this is that since the systems are integrated and the bank will send the data back to e-Albania, the payment and the document will it is generated in a faster time… I don’t see any problem from this side, although we don’t have technical details yet. But, based on what has been said, it seems something normal and the risk of citizens’ bank data being taken seems almost zero to me. “

Besmir Semanaj

To create the legal and technical conditions for citizens to pay for public services through e-Albania, in mid-October 2022, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Albania, the Association of Banks, and AKSHI.

Based on this memorandum, the working group has been established for more than a month. According to what Mr. Brumbulli, who is also a member of this group, says, several meetings have been held so far and they are currently in the finalization phase of the document to unify all the technical practices that will be followed by the banks and AKSHI.

We, as a banking industry, have agreed with the final draft of the document, but it must be approved by other representatives who are in the group: AKSHI, the Ministry of Finance, and the Bank of Albania. The moment this document is closed, then the banks and AKSHI will begin to take their actions and to carry out the information communication test.”

It seems that the banks are enthusiastic about this new service that they will offer to their customers in cooperation with AKSHI.

In addition to the security, which they are convinced that the scheme offers, bank representatives also say that this is an added package to the one they already offer to their customers.

“Our opinion is positive… You ask if the e-Albania platform can be hacked again, may it never happen, but we are detached from this because between AKSHI and the bank, there is only information transmission and there is no access to the database, therefore, through this message, I also want to ensure the position that I have as a member of the working group that has no risk,” emphasizes Spiro Brumbulli.

The aim of the banks and AKSHI is for the service to be online for citizens starting in January of this year.

But, even if this does not happen, the parties seem optimistic that very soon citizens will be able to pay for public services through the e-Albania platform while they are ready to “put their hands on the fire” and that the security of their sensitive data is guaranteed.

* Source:  A2 CNN TV: -is/