Australian firms could be forced to declare ransom payments

The ransomware bill was introduced by an opposition legislator in the wake of numerous global attacks

A bill has been introduced into the Australian House of Representatives that requires organisations to disclose when they make ransomware payments. 

The Ransomware Payments Bill 2021 was introduced on Monday by Labour Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security Tim Watts, who said there was an “urgent need for this bill”.

The bill requires entities who make a ransomware payment to notify the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) of key details of the attack, the attacker, and the payment. 

The information will be used to share de-identified information to the private sector through the ACSC’s threat-sharing platform, to collect and share information that may be used by law enforcement, and to inform policymaking and track the effectiveness of policy responses.

“The ransom payment notification scheme created by this bill is the starting point for such a comprehensive plan to tackle ransomware,” said Watts. “It will require large businesses and government entities that choose to make ransomware payments to notify the ACSC before they make the payment.”

Watts added that this information it will provide a “fuller picture of ransomware attacks in Australia and the scale of the threat”. The minister also underlined that ransoms should not be paid as it does not guarantee an organisation can restore its systems quickly or prevent further disruption and “it does not guarantee your data won’t be leaked”.

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He added that where an organisation feels “compelled” to make a ransom payment, the government should be involved.

The minister used examples of various ransomware attacks in the last 12 months, including the Colonial Pipeline hack in the US which led to fuel shortages, an attack on Australian broadcaster Nine Entertainment which disrupted its ability to broadcast, and the attack on JBS Foods which paralysed the company that employs 11,000 Australians on 47 sites.

Earlier this month, JBS Foods ended up paying an $11 million (£7.8 million) ransom to hackers who compromised its IT systems last month. It made the payment in Bitcoin and CEO Andre Nogueira said it was a “difficult” decision to make. The company also confirmed that at the time of payment, the vast majority of its facilities were operational.

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