Australia telecom regulator takes Optus to court over 2022 cyberattack

The ACMA alleges that Optus failed to protect the confidentiality of its customers' personal information.

Gigi Onag, Senior Editor, APAC

May 23, 2024

2 Min Read
Optus store in a mall in Australia
(Source: Takatoshi Kurikawa/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has filed a legal case against Singtel-owned Optus over a cyberattack in September 2022 that leaked the personal data of as many as 10 million customers.

Legal proceedings have been filed in the federal court with the Australian telecom regulator alleging that Optus "failed to protect the confidentiality of its customers' personal information from unauthorized interference or unauthorized access" as required by law.

In a stock exchange filing on Wednesday, Singtel confirmed the legal action taken by ACMA against its Australian business unit – adding that Optus Mobile intends to defend the proceedings.

"At this stage, Optus Mobile is not able to determine the quantum of penalties, if any, that could arise," the company said.

It added: "Optus has previously apologized to its customers and has taken significant steps, including working with the police and other authorities, to protect them."

As the case is now before the Australian courts, Singtel said that Optus Mobile "will not be commenting further at this time."

Data breach made first major dent on Optus' reputation

The cyberattack that hit Australia's number two operator occurred between September 17 and September 20, 2022, compromising personal information, including customer names, street addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passport details.

Related:Singtel warns of loss after $2.3B in writedowns

Singtel set aside $142 million Singapore dollars (US$101 million) to pay for compensation or legal action over the theft of Optus customer data.

Embattled Optus can trace its reputational troubles from this incident, which is considered one of the largest data privacy breaches in Australian history. Since then, the telco operator also faced a massive 14-hour network outage in November 2023, and it forked out a A$1.5million ($980,316) fine in March for large-scale breaches of public safety rules.

The cyberattack against Optus led the Australian government to enact a law that imposes tougher penalties for serious or repeated breaches of customer information, with companies that fail to secure their data facing fines of A$50 million ($33.2 million) or more.

A heavy toll

Optus' troubles have weighed heavy its parent company's finances.

Last month, SingTel warned of a second-half loss after announcing S$3.1 billion ($2.3 billion) in write-downs, mostly relating to its Australian unit.

Singtel said the biggest impairment provision was a S$2 billion ($1.47 billion) goodwill writedown against Optus, whose recovery value "was assessed to be below its carrying value."

Related:Optus names new CEO, introduces new governance model

"This reflected a range of factors including weaker prospects in the enterprise market, increased cost of capital and the softer macroeconomic outlook in Australia," it said in a filing.

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About the Author(s)

Gigi Onag

Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading

Gigi Onag is Senior Editor, APAC, Light Reading. She has been a technology journalist for more than 15 years, covering various aspects of enterprise IT across Asia-Pacific.

She started with regional IT publications under CMP Asia (now Informa), including Asia Computer Weekly, Intelligent Enterprise Asia and Network Computing Asia and Teledotcom Asia. This was followed by stints with Computerworld Hong Kong and sister publications FutureIoT and FutureCIO. She had contributed articles to South China Morning Post, TechTarget and PC Market among others.

She interspersed her career as a technology editor with a brief sojourn into public relations before returning to journalism, joining the editorial team of Mix Magazine, a MICE publication and its sister publication Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

Gigi is based in Hong Kong and is keen to delve deeper into the region’s wide wild world of telecoms.

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