SYDNEY, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil on Sunday said the government would consider making illegal the paying of ransoms to cyber hackers, following recent cyber attacks affecting millions of Australians.
Australia’s biggest health insurer, Medibank Private Ltd (MPL.AX), last month suffered a massive cyber attack, as Australia grapples with a rise in hacks.
Singapore Telecommunications-owned (STEL.SI) telecoms company Optus, Australia’s second largest telco, along with at least eight other companies, have been breached since September.
Asked on ABC television on Sunday whether the government planned to look at outlawing ransom payments to cyber criminals, O’Neil said “that’s correct”.
“We will do that in the context of … cyber strategy,” she said.
The comments come after O’Neil, on Saturday, formalised a new cyber-policing model between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Signals Directorate – which intercepts electronic communications from foreign countries – to do “new tough policing” on cybercrime.
Around 100 officers would be part of the new partnership between the two federal agencies, which would act as a joint standing operation against cyber criminals.
The taskforce would “day in, day out, hunt down the scumbags who are responsible for these malicious crimes”, she said.
The AFP earlier this week said Russia-based hackers were behind the attack on Medibank, which compromised data from around 10 million current and former customers.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus on Saturday refused to be drawn on whether the Russia-based ransomware group REvil was responsible for recent cyber attacks on Australians, but said it was a “very organised criminal gang” located in Russia.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously said the government was doing all it could to limit the impact of the Medibank hack and had set up a phone service for affected customers to seek help from both the government and Medibank.