Media conference, Melbourne
The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Minister for Home Affairs
Minister for Cyber Security
The Hon Clare O’Neil MP
Subjects: Medibank Data Hack; Extradition matter; COVID Cruise Ship.
HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER CLARE O'NEIL: Good morning everyone. We're pleased to be here with you and thank you for your time. I want to just say at the outset how much we are thinking about Medibank customers this morning and I want them to know that the Prime Minister and I are standing with them. This is a really difficult and stressful time for Australians. You're entitled to keep information about your health, whatever it is, completely private. It doesn't matter who you are or what the information might be, that is your right and it's been stolen from you by Russian thugs. Our message today is that those thugs should watch out. There is a perception out there in the community, I think, that not much can be done to bring cyber-criminals to justice. That is not true. The criminals we are up against have adapted their ways and so are we. Around the world governments are stepping up and arming up in this fight, and the Australian Government is joining them. Today the Attorney-General and I are announcing a new model of policing that will be undertaken on a permanent basis by the Australian Government in a new partnership between the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Signals Directorate. The Australian Federal Police is led by the Attorney-General and I know is well known to many Australians. The Australian Signals Directorate is an intelligence agency located within the Defence Department. This is not well understood by Australians but I want them to understand that the very best, smartest, toughest people in cyber-security in this country work for the Australian Government, either within the Australian Signals Directorate or for the Australian Federal Police. The work that has been done on Optus and Medibank will not be obvious to everyone but I want to tell you that they have had enormous impact in preventing harm that would have occurred in these two attacks. The nature of their work is covert, but they are the best in the world at what they do and they have prevented significant harm that could have otherwise occurred in these instances. When Optus was hit these two organisations started a new type of policing and a new partnership and today we're announcing that partnership will be formalised and made permanent. This will be through a Joint Standing Operation against cyber-criminal syndicates. Around 100 officers across these two organisations will be a part of this permanent Joint Standing Operation. Many of these officers will be physically co-located working from the Australian Signals Directorate. They will show up to work every day with the goal of bringing down these gangs and thugs. This is the formalisation of a partnership, a standing body in the Australian Government, which will day in, day out, hunt down the scumbags who are responsible for these malicious crimes against innocent people. Cyber-security is a core national security focus of our government. It is beyond doubt now that this is a crime type that will continue in our country so today we're putting cyber-criminals on notice the Joint Standing Operation will not simply be responding to crimes as they affect Australians, they will be hunting these gangs around the world and disrupting the activities of these people. The smartest and toughest people in our country are going to hack the hackers. From now on cyber-criminals will be a constant and enduring target for our agencies to disrupt and they'll be working closely with the international partnerships that these two organisations have. And I'll now hand to the Attorney-General to explain a little bit more about how this operation will work.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Thanks very much Clare. As Clare has just said this is an incredibly distressing situation for many Australians, including those whose data has been released and those who are concerned that their data might be released. The Government acknowledges this and we're doing all that we can to limit the impact of this awful criminal act and provide support to people who are going through this distressing time. Today's announcement complements the existing work that has been done since we learned about this hack. It formalises and intensifies cooperation between two key agencies, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Signals Directorate, and sends a message to cyber-criminals who would seek to do Australians harm that there are two very powerful bodies who will be working together to do all that they can to stop you. The AFP has already been working day and night, scouring the internet and known criminal online sites to identify those who are buying and selling personal information, personal identification information. The AFP is very, very actively engaged in this and I'd like to remind everyone that it is an offence to buy stolen information online, which could include a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. It is also an offence to blackmail or menace customers. I'd also like to reiterate the message that the AFP Commissioner gave yesterday and call on the media to be responsible in how they report on the data compromised by this breach. And, just finally, I'd like to add that in just over a week our bill to strengthen Australia's privacy laws will be before the Senate. It vastly increases the maximum penalty that companies face for serious data breaches and also provides the Australian Information Commissioner with greater powers to resolve those breaches. I call on all parties to support this bill when it comes before the Senate and have it passed without delay so that we can treat this serious problem with the urgency that it deserves. We'll take questions from the group here first and then on the phone.
REPORTER: Do you believe REvil is responsible for the Medicare hack?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I won't be commenting on operational matters like that. What we do know, and we heard from the Australian Federal Police Commissioner yesterday, is that it is a very organised criminal gang and that it is located in Russia.
REPORTER: Why did they target Australia?
O'NEIL: The criminal gangs at the heart of this matter are not just targeting Australia and this is a global problem. What we saw when international police commissioners met just a few weeks ago in New Delhi for their annual meeting is that cyber-crime has become the number one crime type of concern for police organisations around the world. Now I think what we're seeing in Australia is that we're waking up from a cyber-slumber that we've been in. When I look at previous years you saw in 2020, 2021 major attacks which are quite similar in nature to Optus and Medibank happen in countries around the world. Now what I know the Attorney-General and I would have really liked to see is real energy and focus behind this problem since that time, I don't think we got that but you have it now. It should be beyond a shadow of a doubt from Medibank and Optus that this is an extraordinarily important thing for the Government to be focused on and that is why we are making an announcement today about this Joint Standing Operation where the very smartest and toughest people in this country with regard to cyber-security are not going to be just assisting us in responding to crimes, but are going to be hunting these criminals down around the world, whether they're in Russia or anywhere else.
REPORTER: I've seen the Russian Embassy put out a statement basically complaining that the AFP didn't give them a heads up? What do you have to say to that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's an operational matter that I will not comment on.
REPORTER: What about the relations between countries? Obviously, the need to work together getting the criminals is obviously the main focus for you guys?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will be taking all steps possible. The AFP will be working with all international partners. That includes INTERPOL and includes calling on all countries to assist in the elimination of this type of cyber-crime. No country should stand by and not assist any other country that is asking you for help. Any country that harbours criminals of this kind is in fact assisting them.
REPORTER: Does the Australian Government really believe that Russia is going to cooperate, given our backing of Ukraine?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're going to continue to make requests. Russia remains a member of INTERPOL and it's absolutely appropriate that Russia do all that it can to ensure that people who are within its borders are not engaging in this kind of criminal activity.
O'NEIL: Perhaps I can just add to that. I think it's really important to just have a look at what's happened with the Medibank situation in particular. Even amongst ransomware groups it is considered beyond the pale to do what has happened here and that is reveal completely private information and persecute totally innocent people to try to get a ransom. Now I don't think any leader of any country around the world surely would condone this activity and surely, they will legitimately seek the help of other countries around the world if it happened to them. So, that is the basis on which we will approach this problem with international leaders and the Prime Minister will have more to say about that, no doubt, when he speaks later this afternoon.
REPORTER: Is Australia considering expelling any Russian diplomats?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Australian Government is looking hard at Russia's diplomatic profile in Australia and all options remain under consideration. Our preference is to maintain diplomatic channels but diplomatic profiles must always be consistent with our national interest.
REPORTER: Does the AFP think it's going to be able to catch these hackers outside of Russia?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The AFP is working day and night on this problem. It is working with its international partner agencies. That includes, of course as the AFP commissioner has talked about in the past, the FBI. We've got the maximum resources with the best possible minds, as the Minister for Cybersecurity has outlined, here in Australia working on this problem now and we've identified the criminals responsible. I'm not going to go further than that at this time.
O'NEIL: Perhaps I'll just add and supplement that answer there. I think we need to shift away from the mindset here that the only thing that means success is having someone behind bars. There is an enormous amount that can be done, which doesn't walk in that exact direction. Now I'm not going to go into the specifics, but this term disruption is what we're here to talk about and this Joint Standing Operation is not simply responding to crime. They will be hunting these gangs wherever they are around the world and disrupting their activities. We are going to hack the hackers. That's the announcement that's been made today.
REPORTER: Just on another matter, are you able to give us an update on the US pilot Daniel Duggan, the US sought his extradition.
REPORTER: And what is happening there?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not going to comment further on an extradition matter.
REPORTER: Today's new information, new targets being released, have we seen that today?
O'NEIL: It doesn't appear that any information has been released overnight. Okay, so we might go to the phones if you guys are comfortable here. So, are there any questions from the phones?
REPORTER: Minister O'Neill, can I just ask about the cruise ship embarking and disembarking COVID passengers in Sydney. Can I ask whether you've got any concerns about that we're in a situation where there are so many passengers that have COVID that need to be dealt with?
O'NEIL: Thank you. So, you're right. The Majestic Princess cruise ship arrived in Sydney this morning and there are COVID Positive passengers on board. New South Wales Health is the lead agency for managing how they are going to assist the passengers and deal with disembarkation on a case by case basis. I would say that there's regular protocols in place that have arisen out of the Ruby Princess and I'm sure New South Wales Health will be out and about later today to answer questions about the decisions that they've made. The role of Border Force here is supplementary to the lead on the health issues. Okay, anything else on the phone?
REPORTER: Just on the task force or the Joint Standing Operation, will there be any extra funding or resources go into these agencies?
O'NEIL: So, we have talked to the police and the Australian Signals Directorate about that question and assured them that we are there for them and we'll talk to them about that, but not being announced today at this stage. So, it's 100 officers who will come out of existing operations
Okay, I think we are good on the phone. So, thank you everyone for your time. much appreciate it.