It’s a Hacker’s World

Shikka Shah (Year 8), Chief Contributor

The 21st century is an unpredictable place. In a world where murders and kidnappings preoccupy our world, who would have thought that our biggest threat lies within the screen of your phone?  

In late September, Optus announced that it had been a victim of a cyber-attack that has been putting customer data at risk for as long as the past 5 years. This cyber-attack resulted in a data breach of an estimated 9.8 million customer records, including date of birth, email address and phone numbers with 2.8 million of these people having their home address and government ID stolen.  

You would be surprised to know that Optus had a vulnerable security system that easily allowed the hacker to breach this data questioning. This has left many customers worried, as even the most successful companies are seemingly, not that safe.  Stealing official documents and information such as this can lead to identity theft, in this case these official documents could have led to the hacker pretending to be a customer when signing up for loans or other financial services.  

Well, you must be itching to know who was behind this cyber-attack. A 19-year-old male, who was arrested last month, pleaded guilty to blackmailing over 100 defenseless Australians with stolen data. This conviction went ahead after the Australian Federal Police investigation revealed text messages being sent to Optus customers demanding them to transfer $2000 to his younger brother’s account. This raises massive alarms for Australia’s security system. If a 19-year-old can retrieve data from one of the biggest telecommunication companies in Australia, then what’s stopping countries such as Russia or China hack into Australian servers? 

Just when we thought this cyber nightmare was over our real fear came to life. Two months after the Optus cyber-attack, Medibank became the latest Australian organization to be breached. Over 16,000 customers’ personal data was retrieved by the hacker. Australia’s cyber nightmare was furthered when it was revealed a team of Russian hackers had encrypted this company’s system and stolen the personal records of these clients. Some of this information stolen contained highly confidential information on individuals with health issues such as heart disease, mental health issues and alcohol issues.  

For tech professionals, the ease in which this data was mined is highly disturbing, especially due to the young demographic which makes up a substantial portion of social media engagement.  

Data breaches and cyber-attacks don’t only come in the form of social media adds or encrypting data of big companies. In the past year approximately 15 million Australians have received fraudulent calls or texts asking for personal information such as emails and address. Only 19% of these people reported these scams, leaving these same hackers to go around and harm other people’s personal security.  

Both Optus and Medicare have released apology statements to assure customers that they are working with the Australian Government to resolve these issues. Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin has responded by saying We are very sorry and understand customers will be concerned. “Please be assured that we are working hard, and engaging with all the relevant authorities and organizations, to help safeguard our customers as much as possible”. Both Optus and Medibank have encouraged customers to be wary of suspicious messages and keep up to date with their customer publications.