Australia will be “offensively attacking” ransomware cartels

Medibank, Optus, and other recent cyberattacks prompted the Australian government to form a 100-strong squad for combating cybercriminals.

Hacking and leaking sensitive data from Australia’s second-largest telecoms provider Optus and largest health insurance company Medibank prompted the government to promise its citizens retaliation against cybercrooks.

The nation’s government announced establishing a Joint standing operation against cybercriminal syndicates. The operation will involve a hundred cybersecurity practitioners and experts tasked with disrupting ransomware cartels.

“What they will do is scour the world, hunt down the criminal syndicates and gangs who are targeting Australia in cyberattacks, and disrupt their efforts,” Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O’Neil said.

The minister said that the operation would be set up by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the country’s cyber watchdog. The operation will be a permanent one, which means it’s not only tasked with dealing with the fallout of recent major hacks.

According to O’Neil, the operation is not meant as a reactive policing force but as an offensive operation, proactively looking for cybercriminals that are targeting organizations and businesses in Australia.

“This is not a model of policing, where we wait for a crime to be committed and then try to understand who it is and do something to the people who are responsible. We are offensively going to find these people hunt them down, and debilitate them before they can attack our country,” O’Neil said.

The operation’s goal is to disrupt networks that enable ransomware operators to attack, the Australian government said in a statement announcing the operation.

A day before announcing the operation, the AFP said that hackers behind the Medibank breach resided in Russia. Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw went on record to say the authorities know the identities of the hackers and reminded Australia’s capabilities of “bringing overseas offenders back to Australia.”

Australia’s cyber woes

While the Optus hack kickstarted the cascade of cyberattacks in Australia, the Medibank hack has been in the spotlight recently. The company refused to pay the ransom hackers demanded over the sensitive data of about 9.7 million of its current and former customers.

The government is flirting with the idea of banning ransom payments to make Australia a less lucrative market for cybercriminals.

Several large Australian organizations have been breached in the last couple of months. While Optus and Medibank were the most notable, other breaches include Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra which had details of 30k of the company’s staff members leaked.

IT services provider Dialog and Woolworths subsidiary in Australia, MyDeal, were also attacked. Cybercriminals may have compromised a dataset from ForceNet, Australia’s defense e-communications platform.

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