Karen Andrews criticises government for ‘being asleep at the wheel’ on cybersecurity following the attack on Optus

The Coalition has argued the Albanese Government was “asleep at the wheel” on cybersecurity after the Optus data breach last week.

Personal information of about 2.8 million customers of the second largest telecommunications company, such as passport, driver’s license, email and home address, date of birth and phone numbers are believed to have been stolen.

Australians on the Optus network were not immediately notified of the attack, with news of the data breach initially breaking in the media on Thursday.

The next day CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin tearfully apologised and urged customers to change their passwords and to check their accounts for any “unusual activity”.

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But former home affairs minister Karen Andrews insisted it was the fault of Labor and it was time for successor Clare O’Neil to give some comfort to affected households.

“The Labor Government, the Minister in particular, has been asleep at the wheel and has certainly not done all that she could do to reassure the Australian public that the government will do what it can to protect them,” she said in a press conference.

Ms Andrews said she would introduce the Ransomware Action Plan legislation back into to the parliament on Monday after the bill was not passed earlier in the year due to a busy schedule, which included the Federal Election.

The legislation would see standalone offences of up to 10 years in jail for “all forms of cyber extortion”, while hefty penalties for criminals who target critical infrastructure, such as telecommunication networks, would be hit with 25 years behind bar.

Ms O’Neil is also expected to introduce legislation to allow large companies to inform banks of data breaches earlier to protect accounts and other personal information.

But Liberal Senator James Paterson believes the government’s proposal was too late and it was simply “trying to close the gate after the horse bolted”.

Mr Paterson also stressed Optus needs to provide a “full explanation and genuine apology” to its customers of what happened and who was responsible.

“It’s appropriate that when there’s an investigation going on, that they follow the AFP’s (Australian Federal Police) advice, but that should not be used as an excuse not to be completely upfront with the public about how this happened and who’s responsible for it, when those facts are known,” he said.

The Liberal Senator also argued Ms O’Neil waited until the break of the third quarter AFL Grand Final match between Sydney Swans and Geelong Cats on Saturday before issuing a response days later.

“Australian companies must do all they can to protect their customers’ data. I will have much more to say in coming days about the Optus cyber attack and what steps need to be taken in the future,” she tweeted on Saturday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was also posed about the concerns of future cyberattacks ahead of his Japan trip for Shinzo Abe’s funeral.

He hinted the changes coming will allow customers and telecommunications companies to be notified earlier they were hacked.

“We want to make sure, as well, that we change some of the privacy provisions there so that if people are caught up like this, the banks can be let know, so that they can protect their customers as well,” he said.

“But this is a massive breach that has occurred. We know that in today’s world, there are actors, some state actors, but also some criminal organisations who want to get access to people’s data.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Thursday warned Optus customers to watch out for scams after news of the major data breach broke.

“Scamwatch is warning Optus customers to be on the look out for scams and take steps to secure their personal information following a cyberattack,” a statement from said.

“A cyberattack has resulted in the release of Optus customers’ personal information. If you are an Optus customer your name, date of birth, phone number, email addresses may have been released.

“For some customers, identity document numbers such as driver’s licence or passport numbers could be in the hands of criminals. It is important to be aware that you may be at risk of identity theft and take urgent action to prevent harm.”