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Service NSW not effectively handling private information: NSW Auditor-General

Report arrives following breaches earlier this year from emails spoofing Office 365 warnings.



service-nsw.jpg Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford has released her office’s report into how Service NSW handles personal and business information, following the agency being breached earlier this year.

In May, the agency fessed up to the phishing attack, which led to 47 staff email accounts being compromised. The breach was said to have impacted 186,000 customers and exposed up to 738GB of customer information contained within 3.8 million documents.

The Audit Office said in its report that the breach was actually a pair of phishing attacks across late March and early April — the spoof email mimicked an Office 365 warning — that led to a fake Office 365 log-in page from where credentials were harvested. Even though Service NSW had previously highlighted it did not have multi-factor authentication on its systems in 2018 and said it would be done by June 2019, it was not implemented until the breach occurred.

Even though Service NSW played down the impact of the breach in terms of customers affected this week, the Audit Office said it has not seen the data behind that statement and, at any rate, it was a serious breach and showed Service NSW needed to improve.

The agency has previously said the breach would cost around AU$30 million, but that is before remediation or compensation is taken into account, the Audit Office said.

The report presented a damning view of an agency that had grown fast, was not enforcing its own policies, lacked proper digitised and secure communication with other agencies and departments, and was using its Salesforce CRM for tasks it was not designed for.

“Service NSW is not effectively handling personal customer and business information to ensure its privacy,” the report opened with.

“It continues to use business processes that pose a risk to the privacy of personal information.”

One of the least compliant methods used by Service NSW was scanning and emailing personal information to some of the agencies it had client arrangements with — one of which is Births, Deaths, and Marriages — and not having automated controls.

Instead, the agency relied on manual policies that required its workers to “double delete” emails with scanned attachments from sent and deleted folders and delete scanned copies from shared drives.

“Operational risks to customer’s personal information are not effectively mitigated and business processes that contributed to the recent data breach are continuing,” the report said.

“While processes are in place to identify and record risks, the controls in place to mitigate risk need improvement.”

The report added that Service NSW is far too reliant on employee training and does not have any sort of technical barrier to what workers do — not even proper logs.

“Once trained in how to conduct transactions on client agency systems, staff are provided with access logins. There are no further technical restrictions on a staff member accessing customer information without authority.”

“There is also no way for Service NSW to routinely monitor access. We were told of examples of unauthorised access to customer information, though these were only detected by methods such as another team member reporting suspicious behaviour or following a complaint from a customer who suspected that their privacy had been breached.”

Due to how Service NSW was created, and that it works with data from 36 other state agencies, the agency has arrangements with its brethren, which are not watertight.

“The lack of clarity in privacy responsibilities in agreements between Service NSW and its client agencies poses two risks,” the report said.

“First, that necessary obligations will fall ‘between the cracks’ of the two agencies, with each assuming the other responsible for meeting an obligation.

“Second, that it creates uncertainty for individuals about which agency is responsible for their personal information and which agency is accountable should a breach occur — even knowing to which agency the individual should complain.”

Since it was created in 2013, Service NSW has grown from three client agencies to 36, increased staff numbers from 24 to just shy of 3,900, opened 109 service centres as well as four mobile centres, and increased the number of transactions it handles by 150%.

This growth was called out in its use of the Salesforce-managed CRM solution for information it was not intended to store.

“The CRM was primarily intended to be used for recording customer service interactions in relation to transactions that Service NSW performs on behalf of other agencies, without storing the personal information collected through those transactions. Transaction information is generally stored on client agency systems,” it said.

“Since its inception, Service NSW’s use of its CRM system has extended to storing transaction data, particularly for services for which it has responsibility, such as the Seniors Card. It also holds basic account details for over four million MyServiceNSW account holders, including at a minimum, name, email address, and phone number, and optional address details.”

The Audit Office found the Salesforce instance held de-identified data such as health, disability, and Indigenous status on children who received Active Kids vouchers, and “program information for the Affordable IVF program”.

“It also retains transaction information about firearms licence applications for a short period of around two or three days,” the Audit Office said.

“Some staff interviewed for this audit were concerned that this evolution in the way the CRM system is used to store transaction information, along with the greater volume of data that is stored, has changed the risk profile from that which applied when the system was designed.”

Ostensibly, the agency has said it has zero-risk appetite, but the Audit Office found holes in its attempt to reach that goal.

For instance, executives are not completing the yearly privacy management assessments, awareness of its privacy management plan is low among staff and it has not been submitted to the Privacy Commissioner as required, and even though it was informed that agency executives discuss enterprise risk, the Audit Office could find no mention of it in the minutes provided.

“This creates uncertainty regarding what is discussed at these meetings, whether any formal decisions are made, or actions agreed, at these meetings,” it said.

Even though the Audit Office said Service NSW is capable of producing “good practice” privacy impact assessments, it only does so on major new projects and has not completed them on existing systems. Service NSW also does not publish the assessments, even if the assessment itself recommended to do so.

In its set of recommendations, the Audit Office said Service NSW needed to urgently implement a way to securely pass personal information between itself and client agencies, as well as review the need to store that information at all, and, if needed, create a more secure way to store and regularly delete it.

The report also recommended by March 2021 that Service NSW makes sure new agreements that it enters with client agencies cover how private information is stored and secured, reviews its privacy management plan with its overseeing Department of Customer Service, as well as works with the department on how it manages privacy risks.

By June, the report said Service NSW should have addressed the deficiencies found in its Salesforce instance, policies, and processes covering user activity on the system, partitioning, and role-based access restrictions to personal information. The agency should have also both allowed customers to use multi-factor authentication on their MyServiceNSW accounts and view a transaction history relating to their personal information to identify mishandling.

The report recommended by December next year that Service NSW modify existing agreements with client agencies to cover how private information is stored and secured, carry out a “risk assessment of all processes, systems and transactions that involve the handling of personal information”, and complete a privacy impact assessment on unassessed high-risk systems, or systems with major changes since a prior assessment was made.

Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello welcomed the “robust” findings of the report.

“My agency has committed to implementing all of the Auditor General’s recommendations and has already implemented a number of critical security measures such as multi-factor authentication on staff email accounts,” he said.

“Legacy systems — like those targeted in this attack which contained photocopied paper attachments — must be systematically removed and replaced with secure end-to-end digital systems.

“I sincerely apologise to those affected.”

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The report presented a damning view of an agency that had grown fast, was not enforcing its own policies, lacked proper digitised and secure communication with other agencies and departments, and was using its Salesforce CRM for tasks it was not designed for.




National Australia Bank keeping staff connected with Google Pixel rollout

More than 2,000 Google Pixel devices were issued to NAB’s customer contact teams to enable them to support customers remotely.



15664-android-nab-blog-v2-max-1000x1000.png Image: Google

When National Australia Bank (NAB) recently revised its device strategy to look at new ways it could support the mobility of its employees and reduce the time and cost of support legacy devices across multiple platforms, the big bank partnered with Google to issue more than 2,000 Pixel devices to its customer contact teams.

Each device, managed with Android enterprise, was rolled out by Vodafone using “zero-touch” enrolment to set up the devices and configure each one with the necessary applications.

“With zero-touch enrolment, each Pixel setup was 20 minutes faster than our previous device enrolments, saving our IT team and colleagues over 500 hours during the initiative. With our communication and collaboration apps available right out of the box, our teams could get to work right away to help customers,” NAB Mobility manager Simon Thoday said.

Another consideration of the rollout was how customer data was going to remain secure, with Thoday pointing out that using Android Enterprise provided the solution to that question.

“Pixel security updates from Google provide a reliable cadence of ongoing protection as threats evolve, and the work profile hits the right balance between security and privacy for our teams,” Thoday said.

“Our contact centre teams use Pixel devices that are fully managed, which allows us to provide the necessary security controls, and wipe and re-enroll them when transferred to a new employee,” he said.

“Branch managers use Pixels with the work profile, separating work and personal applications. This gives employees the ability to use the device in a personal capacity while our IT team manages and ensures data security over the work profile.”

Additionally, with managed Google Play, NAB can assign the apps that are necessary on its managed devices.

“Providing our teams the flexibility to assign apps to the right teams is a major time saver and ensures everyone has the resources they need,” Thoday said.

“Branch managers can look up customer service records or answer a ping more quickly from their Pixel, instead of returning back to their desk and logging back on to their desktop computer. Android Enterprise has been a catalyst in a more mobile and responsive environment for our various teams.”

Earlier this month, the red and black bank completed its transition to TPG to deliver fixed and mobile network services across the bank.

The transition follows a deal struck between the two companies in September for the newly merged telecommunications giant to deliver fixed network services across NAB’s corporate offices, business banking centres, and branches, as well as providing mobile connectivity to the majority of the NAB workforce.

Vodafone delivered the solution to more than 80% of NAB’s mobile fleet across corporate offices and branches in metro and major regional areas. The company said Vodafone, alongside Google, would also be providing those who opt for a company phone with the Pixel 4a.

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Another consideration of the rollout was how customer data was going to remain secure, with Thoday pointing out that using Android Enterprise provided the solution to that question.



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Crackonosh malware abuses Windows Safe mode to quietly mine for cryptocurrency

The malware is thought to have generated millions of dollars in just a few short years.



Researchers have discovered a strain of cryptocurrency-mining malware that abuses Windows Safe mode during attacks.

The malware, dubbed Crackonosh by researchers at Avast, spreads through pirated and cracked software, often found through torrents, forums, and “warez” websites.

After finding reports on Reddit of Avast antivirus users querying the sudden loss of the antivirus software from their system files, the team conducted an investigation into the situation, realizing it was due to a malware infection.

Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.

The infection chain begins with the drop of an installer and a script that modifies the Windows registry to allow the main malware executable to run in Safe mode. The infected system is set to boot in Safe Mode on its next startup.

“While the Windows system is in safe mode antivirus software doesn’t work,” the researchers say. “This can enable the malicious Serviceinstaller.exe to easily disable and delete Windows Defender. It also uses WQL to query all antivirus software installed SELECT * FROM AntiVirusProduct.”

Crackonosh will scan for the existence of antivirus programs — including Avast, Kaspersky, McAfee’s scanner, Norton, and Bitdefender — and will attempt to disable or delete them. Log system files are then wiped to cover its tracks.

In addition, Crackonosh will attempt to stop Windows Update and will replace Windows Security with a fake green tick tray icon.

The final step of the journey is the deployment of XMRig, a cryptocurrency miner that leverages system power and resources to mine the Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency.

Overall, Avast says that Crackonosh has generated at least $2 million for its operators in Monero at today’s prices, with over 9000 XMR coins having been mined.

Approximately 1,000 devices are being hit each day and over 222,000 machines have been infected worldwide.

In total, 30 variants of the malware have been identified, with the latest version being released in November 2020.

“As long as people continue to download cracked software, attacks like these will continue and continue to be profitable for attackers,” Avast says. “The key take-away from this is that you really can’t get something for nothing and when you try to steal software, odds are someone is trying to steal from you.”

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.



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South Australia splashes out on space, defence, and cybersecurity in 2021-22 Budget

The South Australian government believes tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity will have a key role to play in the state’s future.



In taking a forward-looking approach into what the future of South Australia will look like, the South Australian government has announced it will bolster investment in tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity as it hands down the 2021-22 Budget [PDF].

“This Budget is our blueprint for a stronger South Australia, creating jobs, building what matters and delivering better services to further secure our growing global reputation as one of the safest and most attractive places in the world to live, work, and raise a family,” Treasurer Rob Lucas said on Tuesday.

Some of the specific funding announcements include AU$20.8 million to upgrade the existing buildings at Lot Fourteen to make way for the expansion of space, digital, hi-tech, and cyber companies, with a particular focus on companies involved in small satellite development.

Separately, AU$6.6 million will be contributed over five years to assist with the SASAT1 Space Services Mission, which will see a local manufacturer launch a small satellite in mid-2022 as well as deliver space-derived services to the state.

South Australia’s Defence and Space Landing Pad program has also received a boost, with the state government saying it will deliver AU$860,000 over three years for the program that is used to support international defence and space companies that bring new, sought-after capability to South Australia.

Local artificial intelligence and health technology companies are set to receive additional support through a AU$1.6 million allocation delivered over four years. Under this investment, AU$985,000 will be used for grants to support AI and health technology companies through matching co-funding for health application pilots, and $589,000 to deliver project support activities, including investment concierge services.

Meanwhile, AU$2.6 million will be earmarked to support small businesses developing digital and cyber security capabilities as well as other capabilities to enter the national market.

The Budget papers also indicated AU$21.1 million over three years will be dedicated towards the implementation of stages three and four of the South Australia Police Shield project, which involves linking South Australia Police’s data and records management system directly with other justice sector agencies. The state government touted the move will improve collaboration and data sharing capabilities.

In a bid to boost bushfire response, the 2021-22 Budget revealed that it will contribute AU$7.7 million over four years towards the ongoing management, support, and maintenance of automatic vehicle location systems (AVL) used by the emergency services sector. AVL provides real time location information of firefighting and other emergency response vehicles during incidents. AVL is expected to be installed in approximately 1,400 vehicles at a total cost of AU$12.7 million.

Additionally, the 2021-22 Budget indicated support for the state government’s commitment to improving digital services for citizens remains ongoing through its AU$120 million Digital Restart Fund, noting that AU$4.3 million in 2021-22 will be put towards the South Australian government’s online services portal, AU$5.5 million over two years for the expansion of the residential aged care enterprise system, AU$1.3 million over two years for the child and family services information systems, and AU$500,000 in 2021-22 for the Safeguarding smartphone app.

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