Data of 80,000 Australian public sector employees compromised in a cyberattack

Personal information, such as banking details, home addresses, and tax file numbers of more than 80,000 South Australian state workers, was compromised in a cyberattack directed at the government’s external payroll software provider, Frontier Software.

The official website recommends all government employees to presume their information was breached, with the exception for those working in the Education sector where Frontier’s services aren’t used.

The news about the attack (potentially linked to Russian hackers) first broke out on November 9th - yet at the time, there was no information about the breach of South Australians’ payroll data. Almost five weeks later, the South Australian treasurer, Rob Lucas, confirmed that information of 38,000 government employees was exposed - this value has since risen to 80,000 on December 14th.

The government announced that they have informed the Australian Taxation Office to establish additional security measures around tax records, as well as notified financial institutions, the Australian federal police, and salary providers. Additionally, they recommend all employees from the relevant sectors should enable 2FA authentication, regularly check their bank statements, and be on alert for potential scam calls and messages.

Frontier Software has been the main payroll provider for the South Australian government over the past 20 years, and their systems are regularly tested by the officials. The government has not yet announced whether they’ll continue using Frontier’s services, but suggested they should look into the details of the incident first. Lucas also noted it would take at least half a year to change the provider.

Frontier has since released a statement to comment on the incident, noting that they have reached out to an external cybersecurity team to investigate the breach. The company’s CEO, Nick Southcombe, said that it was the first such breach to hit Frontier Australia.

“While investigations are ongoing, we are aware that this incident has caused some disruption to the services we provide to our customers. We are committed to communicating and working closely with our customers to minimize any impact on their operations during this time,” - the statement reads.

Many Australian officials have since commented on the incident, suggesting that it’s the government’s direct responsibility to keep their citizens’ data secure.

“This data breach demonstrates, yet again, that once government or business has your data, there is very little you can do if their cybersecurity isn’t good enough,” Justin Warren, chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, commented.

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