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245 Data breaches reported in Australia between July and Sept 2018

Data breaches are on the rise in Australia. Just this quarter, between July and September 2018, the Office of Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) reported a grand total of 245 data breaches. Of which, 57% were caused by malicious or criminal attacks, 37% a result of human error, and 6% arising from system faults.

The report is drafted under the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme which commenced 22 February 2018. Regulated entities are required to notify affected individuals and the Australian Information Commissioner about ‘eligible data breaches’.

Breaches are classified to be instances when personal information is disclosed or access in an unauthorised manner, or when an entity loses personal information. Secondly, a breach should inflict serious harm to more than a single individual. Finally, a breach is confirmed when an entity has not been able to prevent the likely risk of serious harm with remedial action.

Numbering the Attacks

This quarter’s attacks ranked highest compare to the first two quarters. In the first quarter after implementation, the number of notifications received was 63. In the second quarter, the number shot to 242.

The top five industry sectors that reported breaches in this quarter were health service providers, finance, legal, accounting & management services, education, and personal services. The number of data breaches received were 45, 35, 34, 16 and 13 respectively. According to the report, notifications made under the My Health Records Act 2012 are not included in the report.

For health service providers, the main source of data breach was due to human error (25%), followed by malicious or criminal attack (19%). System fault was the most meagre of breach reasons at 1%.

Across the sectors, human error was found to be the biggest source of data breaches. Types of human error include the failure to use BCC when sending emails, insecure disposal of data, or the loss of paperwork or data storage device.

The Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner, Angelene Falk, said, “Our latest report shows 20% of data breaches over the quarter occurred when personal information was sent to the wrong recipient, by email, mail, fax or other means…Importantly, we also need to be on the alert for suspicious emails or texts, with 20% of all data breaches in the quarter attributed to phishing.”

Small mistakes have huge consequences. 63% of breaches involved the personal information of 100 or fewer individuals. This is compared to 61% in the previous quarter.

Furthermore, the report shows that cyber incidents were the predominant kind of breaches identified as ‘malicious or criminal attack’. Other significant kinds of breaches were rogue employee or insider threat, social engineering or impersonation, and the theft of paperwork or data storage device.

Each industry varied in the source and type of breach. Personal services for example were limited to cyber incident and theft of paperwork or data storage device. This is unlike the other top five reporting sectors which had more than one source of attack point.

The overall trend showed that the majority of cyber incidents in the highlighted sectors were linked to the compromise of credentials through phishing, brute-force attacks, or by unknown methods.

Sharpening Cyber Skills

Information published by the OAIC serves to assist entities and the public to gain a better understanding of the scheme’s operations and the causes of data breaches.

To better bolster organisations and individuals against data breaches, Angelene Falk insisted that staff be trained to identify and prevent privacy risks. Such pre-emptive behaviour should be part of business as usual.

She said, “Everyone who handles personal information in their work needs to understand how data breaches can occur so we can work together to prevent them.

“Organisations and agencies need the right cyber security in place, but they also need to make sure work policies and processes support staff to protect personal information every day.”

More information and guidance on data breaches and what to do can be found on here.


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