In the past three weeks, three cyber-attacks resulted in identity leaks that have sent ripples around the nation. 

Has the triple-A of cyber security (Authentication, Authorisation and Accounting) failed? 

In the recent incident, early reports suggest that a compromised credential, most likely related to elevated users, was used to access a database storing user information. The attack led to the scrambling of 2.2 million customer data, which included email addresses, full names, phone numbers, delivery addresses and some customers’ birthdates.

In an interview with Channel 9 News, Prof. Sanjay Jha, Chief Scientist for UNSW Institute for Cybersecurity (IFCYBER), says: “the breach raises serious concerns for the end user's confidence in using online services and poses a serious challenge for the industry”.

“Compromised credentials should not provide easy access to malicious actors when multi-factor authentication (MFA) is in place,” he added.

“You would expect more stringent authorisation and access control and network partitioning to protect these critical assets.”


Safely navigating the digital world


Following basic guidelines on Cyber Security practices listed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre can help avoid some of these problems.

Dr Arash Shaghaghi, a Senior Lecturer in Cybersecurity from the UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering and UNSW Institute for Cybersecurity, says it’s evident from the recent attacks that some industries are not adopting the latest research on cybersecurity fast enough.

“Users' data is collected by various services without any control from the end user, and often the data collection to join these services is excessive – leaving end users vulnerable and with limited options when after a serious breach occurs,” he says.

“Other parts of the world are investing heavily in technological measures such as Self-sovereign identity (SSI), where users would have better control over who has access to what part of user identity and other information. 

“SSI gives individuals control over the information they use to prove who they are to websites, services, and applications across the web. 

“We need to enhance investment in practical research and think of measures that facilitate the adoption of the latest technologies to reinforce our resiliency against the growing number of attacks targeting Australia.”




Last month, 10 million Optus customers experienced a similar fate when cyber criminals hacked into the system, stealing personal details such as passport ID and license numbers. It was reported the breach suggests that an open port without authentication for testing purposes was left in the production version.

Unfortunately, these are well-known problems to the industry, says Prof. Jha.

 “We were white boxing early versions of Philip Hue bulbs and bridges around five years ago and could control these devices through such open ports,” he says.

“This was reported to the company who fixed the problems in their future version.  A simple penetration testing of servers before deployment could have potentially made such attacks difficult, if not impossible.” 

Prof. Jha is also concerned about the state of risk assessment and authorisation processes across the industry and says further stringent penalties for negligence would go a long way.

Often these processes are a box-ticking exercise in an excel spreadsheet, and many conducting these tasks don’t have adequate background in cybersecurity, he says.

“This re-emphasisis the need for quality education along with more research in quality tools to improve these processes,” says Prof. Jha.

“My team is working on such tools for a Distributed Energy Resource Management Security project at UNSW funded by Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre.

“Cyber Security is a cat-and-mouse game. Researchers and industry experts need to come together in Australia and work closely to build stronger and more resilient capabilities that help safeguard businesses and users in today’s world of cyberwar and cyber-terrorism.

“We need to regain the community’s confidence back in our cyber capabilities.”