Millions allocated in budget to investigating Optus hack

The federal government has allocated $5.5 million to “investigate and respond to the Optus data breach” in this year’s Federal Budget.

Hidden within the October budget papers is a two-year investment for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), a department which has seen its workload increase amid rising hacks and cyber attacks on businesses and individuals.

The watchdog began an investigation into Optus’ “personal information handling practices” on September 22, following a massive cyber attack in which data from 9.8 million Australians was accessed by hackers.

Camera IconWithin this year’s budget is $5.5 million allocated solely to investigating the Optus data breach. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

“The OAIC’s investigation will focus on whether the Optus companies took reasonable steps to protect the personal information they held from misuse, interference, loss, unauthorised access, modification or disclosure, and whether the information collected and retained was necessary to carry out their business,” the watchdog said in a statement.

If the investigation finds Optus seriously interfered with customers’ privacy, the telco could face civil penalties of up to $2.2 million for each contravention.

The telecommunications company initially failed to tell the federal government that Medicare card numbers, drivers licences and passport numbers had been compromised in the attack.

Approximately 1.2 million Optus customers had at least one form of current ID accessed by the hackers.

Other customer data such as names, phone numbers, dates of birth and email addresses were also compromised, opening millions of Australians up to the risk of scams.

The Information Commissioner Angelene Falk has previously described the attack as Australia’s largest since 2018, when the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme was brought in.

Camera IconAngelene Falk had appealed to the government for more funds for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. Credit: News Corp Australia

Ms Falk has called on the Labor government to allocate more funds to the OAIC, saying the office was “unable to keep up” with increasing demands, particularly for freedom of information requests.

Optus has repeatedly apologised to customers over the hack, and is cooperating with government organisations, police and a Deloitte review into the event.

However, it has come under fire from both the federal government and customers, with Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil saying the teclo left “the window open” to a breach.

The major company also faced criticism for how it handed out information about what happened after the attack.

“One of the real problems is the lack of communication by Optus, both with its customers and the government,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said.

“I don’t think the company is doing a particularly good job with its customers or providing the government with the information we need to keep people safe.”

Customers who had personal data released by hackers face the threat of scams, with a Sydney man already charged over an alleged SMS scheme.

The AFP said he was “working his way through the list” of 10,200 Optus customers who had their data leaked, allegedly demanding $2000 payments from 93 customers before he was apprehended by officers.

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