Australian Government attacked over ransomware ‘epidemic’


Australia’s opposition party has attacked government inaction on ransomware and warned of ‘poor cyber resilience’ across government networks.

The shadow assistant minister for cyber security Tim Watts has taken aim at the Federal Government over a lack of attention to the ransomware epidemic.

In an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review, Watts cited last year’s attack on hospitals in the Gippsland Health Alliance and the South West Alliance of Rural Health, as well as the more recent attack on global transport company Toll, as warning signs the threat was increasing.

“The Toll hacks is a warning to every Australian business,” he wrote.

“At the time of writing, its systems have still not fully recovered.

“Despite this, it has been two years since anyone in the Australian government has even mentioned “ransomware” in parliament.”

Government should ‘sound the alarm’

Watts suggested that just like with the Coronavirus, at the very least there needed to be a public health style campaign or for the minister to “sound the alarm internally about the poor cyber resilience of government networks that have been revealed in a series of audits going back five years.”

Tim Watts, MP

In February former defence minister Christopher Pyne was rebuked by Federal Parliament speaker Tony Smith for suggesting a cyber attack on Parliament’s computer network in January 2019 had been was “much worse” than the public had been told.

Watts said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had abolished the position of any minister with direct portfolio responsibility for cyber security.

“We need a dedicated position in government to meet challenges like ransomware — cyber security is too complex and too important for it not to be somebody’s day job.

“If the government doesn’t shake its complacency, we could soon be experiencing our own ransomware outbreak.”

Toll loses 1000 servers for weeks

The January 31 attack on Toll saw as many as 1000 of the company’s servers infected with the Mailto ransomware. It took out functionality of its MyToll online booking system, including parcel tracking which has only just been restored.

Toll was forced to go back to manual procedures across much of its business and there are numerous reports of customers losing parcels with no ability to locate them due to the attack.

The company said at the time it had no intention of paying the ransom and it shared samples with “law enforcement, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and cyber security organizations”.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre put out a warning about the ‘Mailto’ or ‘Kazakavkovkiz ransomware on February 6, providing for organizations on how to guard against it, including the ‘ASD Essential Eight‘ mitigations.

Ransomware on the increase in Australia

Ransomware is on the increase around the world and Australian systems have become a target.

In October last year IT Solutions provided Datto released research that suggested 91% of small to medium enterprises in Australia and New Zealand had experienced ransomware attacks. It said it was the highest rate in the world.

More recently cybersecurity firm Emsisoft totted up the numbers for Bitcoin payouts and downtime costs and found Australians could have lost more than $1 billion to ransomware last year. However, the figure was only a broad estimate, and the lower bounds of the estimate was around $270 million.

Andrew Fenton

Contact: Andrew Fenton is an Australian freelance journalist and editor. He’s been a national entertainment writer for News Corp, film journalist for The Advertiser and a staff writer on SA Weekend and The Melbourne Weekly. Andrew's work has appeared pretty much everywhere including CNN International,, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph & Courier Mail, Triple J, 3AW, Rendezview, and Intrepid's The Journal. DISCLOSURE: Andrew's cryptocurrency holdings include BTC, VET, ETH, SNX TRAC, ZEN, XRP, WTC, and TRX.

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