The cyber-security minister, Clare O’Neil, has warned of a new world “under relentless cyber-attack” as Australia’s security agencies scramble to stop the latest ransomware attack.
Private health insurer Medibank has entered a trading halt after telling customers it had received messages from a group claiming to have accessed the data of its customers in a cyber-attack.
In a statement to the Australian stock exchange on Wednesday, the company said it had received messages from a group that wished to negotiate regarding the alleged removal of customer data.
“I apologise and understand this latest distressing update will concern our customers,” Medibank’s chief executive David Koczkar said.
“We have always said that we will prioritise responding to this matter as transparently as possible.
“Our team has been working around the clock since we first discovered the unusual activity on our systems, and we will not stop doing that now.”
Speaking to ABC radio on Thursday morning, O’Neil said she could not go into detail given a potential crime was unfolding, but said the Australian federal police had launched an investigation and Medibank was working with the Australian Signals Directorate intelligence agency.
O’Neil said cyber-attacks would only increase and organisations that held Australian’s data needed to get better at protecting it.
“This is the new world that we live in,” she said.
“We are going to be under relentless cyber-attack, essentially from here on in. And what it means is that we need to do a lot better as a country to make sure that we are doing everything we can within organisations to protect customer data, and also for citizens to be doing everything that they can.”
O’Neil also flagged new laws in the cybersecurity space.
“Combined with Optus, this is a huge wake-up call for the country. And certainly gives the government a really clear mandate to do some things that frankly, probably should have been done five years ago, but I think are still very crucially important.”
The Nine newspapers reported that it had seen messages from the hacking group, which claimed it had stolen 200 gigabytes of sensitive information from Medibank, and had threatened to contact its 1,000 “most prominent customers” using their own personal information as a “warning shot”.
Medibank said it was working urgently to establish if the group’s claim that it had accessed customer information was true.
The company said that based on its “ongoing forensic investigation we are treating the matter seriously at this time”.
It is unclear what personal information may have been compromised, but Medibank said that it held a range of “necessary” customer information.
The insurer confirmed its systems had not been encrypted by ransomware.
The company has entered a trading halt until at least Friday.
It is the latest in a series of recent cyber-attacks targeting Australian consumers, including on Optus, the wine retailer VinoMofo, and MyDeal, an online shopping site owned by Woolworths.
The Optus hack in late September exposed the details of about 10 million people, and is considered on of the largest in Australian history.
The other attacks also remain under investigation.