‘Huge wake-up call’: Optus to offer credit monitoring as government threatens big fines

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has confirmed almost 3 million Optus customers had significant amounts of personal data stolen in last week’s massive cyberattack, as she flagged introducing big fines for future large data breaches and an overhaul of the nation’s data retention laws.

In her first significant comments since the Optus hack was revealed, the minister responsible for cybersecurity also called on the telecommunications provider to provide free credit monitoring to the estimated 9.8 million customers affected by the breach.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said Australians should not expect such a large data breach from a major telecommunications provider. Credit:James Brickwood

Minutes later, Optus announced it would offer 12 months of free credit monitoring from consumer credit reporting agency Equifax to the “most affected” current and former customers.

“Equifax Protect is a credit monitoring and identity protection service that can help reduce the risk of identity theft,” a spokesman said in a statement.

It emphasised it would not send any links to customers and said information on how to sign up would be communicated in the coming days.

The federal government was expected to announce its policy response to the hack before parliamentary question time on Monday, but is scrambling to deal with the complexities involved.

“Responsibility for the security breach rests with Optus and I want to note that the breach is of a nature that we should not expect to see in a large telecommunications provider in this country,” O’Neil told the House of Representatives.

“We expect Optus to continue to do everything they can to support their customers and former customers.

“One way they can do this is by providing free credit monitoring to impacted customers. This will help protect those customers against identity theft and I call on Optus to make that commitment today.”

Free credit monitoring would help Optus customers suffering “intense anxiety” after the hack, she said.

Saying the policy issues raised by the hack were “legally and technically complex”, O’Neil said: “A very substantial reform task will emerge from a breach of [this] scale and size, and there are a number of policy issues that I think the public will soon become quite aware of.

“One significant question is whether the cybersecurity requirements we place on large telecommunications providers in this country are fit for purpose.

“I also note that in other jurisdictions, a data breach of this size will result in fines amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Opposition home affairs spokesperson Karen Andrews accused O’Neil of being “asleep at the wheel” after the hack and failing to adequately inform Australians how the government would respond.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the hack as a “huge wake-up call for the corporate sector” on the need to secure customers’ personal data.

He said the government was looking to change privacy rules so banks could be quickly notified when data breaches have occurred.

Law firm Slater and Gordon announced it was investigating a possible class action against Optus on behalf of current and former customers affected by the hack.

“We consider that the consequences could be particularly serious for vulnerable members of society, such as domestic violence survivors, victims of stalking and other threatening behaviour, and people who are seeking or have previously sought asylum in Australia,” the firm’s class actions senior associate, Ben Zocco, said.

“Given the type of information that has been reportedly disclosed, these people can’t simply heed Optus’ advice to be on the lookout for scam emails and text messages.”

Investigating a class action is not the same as filing a legal claim and is commonly used by class action firms to attract the plaintiffs they need to run a case. Slater and Gordon said it had previously run mass claims over privacy breaches, including representing thousands of asylum seekers whose data was leaked in 2014.

More to come

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