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Millions of Australians Caught Up in Cyber Attacks

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019, photo a woman types on a keyboard.
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019, photo a woman types on a keyboard.

One of Australia's biggest property companies said Wednesday it had been hit by cybercriminals who may have stolen data about staff and guests.

Staff members at Meriton, a large Australian property business, were warned Wednesday that cybercriminals may have accessed details of their bank accounts and details of their salaries, disciplinary history and performance appraisals.

Guests who have stayed at the company’s hotels have also been told that their contact information may have been compromised.

About 2,000 people are thought to be affected by the data breach.

Earlier this week, a far larger theft was revealed. Latitude Financial, a major Australian financial services company, said that a cyber hack on its systems earlier this month was far worse than originally thought.

It had initially reported that the data of around 330,000 people had been compromised by hackers. The company now says that details of almost eight million driving licenses in Australia and New Zealand were stolen along with more than 50,000 passport numbers. In addition, six million customer records were taken. It could allow the thieves access to account holders’ dates of birth, addresses and phone numbers. The company has apologized. It is unclear if the cyber thieves have demanded a ransom.

Last year millions of customers of telecom giant Optus and Medibank, one of Australia’s largest health insurers, also had personal details stolen.

In response, the government in Canberra promises to boost cybersecurity. It also said it would increase fines imposed on companies with serious or repeated privacy breaches.

Troy Hunt, a cybersecurity expert, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that it will time for the new measures to take effect.

“In order to put the mechanics in place to actually better defend ourselves and then better respond to it is going to require a lot of hours, a lot of effort and a lot of dollars,” Hunt said. “And that inevitably is going to need to be a significant contribution from the private sector as well as government.”

A study published last November by the Australian National University showed that cyberattacks were one of the fastest growing types of crime in the country.

Its survey of almost 3,500 Australian adults during October 2022 found 32.1% of respondents said that they or a member of their household had been the victim of a data breach.

By comparison, the study found only about 10% of Australians had been the victim of serious crimes such as burglary or assault in the last five years.

The Australian Tax Office revealed in October that it is hit by three million attempted hacks on its system every month.