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Medibank hackers release fifth bout of stolen data as Treasurer Jim Chalmers concedes government is ‘playing catch up’ amid continued attacks by ‘absolute grubs’

Russian Medibank hackers have released another round of sensitive medical files with the government conceding it is “playing catch-up” in building up its cyber defences.

The cyber criminals – identified as being from Russia – released almost 1,500 customers’ records – the largest since the leaks begun.

The data illegally obtained and distributed has been identified as records pertaining to chronic conditions including heart disease and asthma, mental health disorders and Australians with cancer and dementia.

The four files containing 1,496 records were disseminated on the dark web with the criminals – who have demanded $15 million from Medibank – claiming the information included data on sexually transmitted diseases.

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The Australian Federal Police expanded Operation Guardian to investigate the leak and protect customers and has been working with international law enforcement along with the signals directorate to interfere with the ongoing actions.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers unleashed on the cyber criminals but conceded the government was “playing catch-up” with its online defences.

“It is a stressful time when you contemplate perhaps some of your most sensitive healthy information being out in the public domain. And those responsible are absolute grubs,” Dr Chalmers told the Today show.

“Well, obviously we need to have better defences. It’s not possible to defend against every single outcome in the cyber world the way that it evolves so quickly.

“But I think we have had, unfortunately, a period of inaction. So we’re playing catch up a bit when it comes to building these cyber defences.”

“Our Commonwealth agencies … are genuinely working around the clock to try and prevent this kind of behaviour and try and catch the grubs that are responsible for it.”

The fifth tranche of data was the first release since November 13 with the hackers claiming the week break was in a “hope something meaningful happens”.

The nation’s biggest health insurer has steadfastly refused to pay the ransom while the government considers introducing laws to ban the payment of sums to hackers.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the government was looking at a series of reforms including a slate of “quick wins” which can be implement immediately such as launching the new hi-tech policing operation aimed at the Medibank hackers specifically.

She also said the government would “have a look” at banning ransom payments, which would prevent companies paying sums to cyber criminals which could in turn encourage further attacks.

The data was stolen in October and is the worst hack in Australian private-sector history, having exposed the entire customer base.  

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