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Home Affairs inadvertently leaks personal data of 50 small businesses

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed overnight that it was responsible for an “inadvertent” release of personal data related to 50 small businesses that took part in a recent cyber security survey.

user icon David Hollingworth
Tue, 25 Jul 2023
Department of Home Affairs
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The data was posted to a parliamentary website in response to a question taken on notice during Senate estimates hearings in May and has since been taken down.

Speaking to The Guardian, a Home Affairs spokesperson said that the department was “aware of a potentially unintentional data release”.

“The department will consider its obligations in accordance with the Privacy Act, including contacting impacted individuals.”

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Home Affairs is now seeking to have that data removed from the internet.

The data was part of a report put together by consultancy firm 89 Degrees East, based on a survey of over 2,000 small businesses, and was arranged under the aegis of the government’s Cyber Wardens program. The initiative aims to educate small businesses about “cyber threats” and place cyber wardens in small businesses alongside fire and safety wardens.

Shadow minister for home affairs and cyber security James Paterson asked the initial question that led to the data leak, and he is unimpressed with the outcome.

“It’s deeply ironic this breach of personally identifiable information occurred in an answer to a question about improving cyber security for small businesses and from a department whose minister publicly attacked Optus when they had similar data stolen by a criminal gang,” Senator Paterson told The Guardian.

“As bad as Optus, Medibank and other recent data breaches have been, a loss of data on that scale by a government department or agency could be even worse given the sensitivity of the material involved.”

The Cyber Wardens program was first announced as a joint initiative between the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre and is being “delivered” by 89 Degrees East. It received a $23 million grant as part of the 2023 federal budget.

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