Australia’s Health Care System Prime Target for Cyber Attackers: Minister

January 24, 2023 by

Australia’s hospitals and health care system are at a high risk from cyberattackers targeting citizens’ personal data, the home affairs minister said, adding the country needed to step up its efforts to combat hacking attempts.

Speaking ahead of an international cybersecurity meeting due to be held in Australia within months, Clare O’Neil told Bloomberg News that while protecting citizens’ data was a “core national issue” for the new Labor government, more work needed to be done to end Australia’s perception as a “soft target.”

“The question is, are we tackling the cybersecurity threat with an energy level commensurate to which we’re being attacked? And I would say that we’re not there at the moment,” she said in an interview late last week.

Australia will host an international ransomware task force in early 2023 to bring together countries including the US, UK and Germany in tackling the growing threat to cybersecurity.

The meeting comes after several hacks of major Australian companies in recent months, including communications giant Optus and medical insurer Medibank. Sensitive information of Australian consumers, including medical information and personal details, were leaked online as a result of the two attacks.

O’Neil, who is also Australia’s cybersecurity minister, said the hacking of Optus and Medibank had been a factor in the decision by international leaders to pick Canberra to lead the talks.

“We would be foolish to deny the fact that the exact same attackers — the same actors, same technology — are targeting countries around the world who are just like Australia,” she said. The minister said she had received an official review into the attacks on Optus and Medibank and would be releasing the findings “relatively soon.”

O’Neil said the agenda for the meeting was still being decided among the nearly 40 countries attending, but it would work toward standardizing cybersecurity language and exploring ways to share information on ransomware threats.

Already O’Neil said countries in the Pacific were reaching out to Australia for greater assistance with their own cybersecurity. An attack in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu in November left much of its government’s sites crippled for months.

At the same time, Australia has provided cybersecurity assistance as part of its involvement in Ukraine to help combat the Russian invasion.

O’Neil said there was a “really interesting, important role for Australia” to play in international cybersecurity going forward, but added it was a fight that never ended.

“If we ever have a cybersecurity minister in Australia that gives the tick and says ‘We’re right,’ then they’re just dreaming,” she said.

Photograph: St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg