Human errors compromising Australian government data more than cybercriminals

Mistakes caused 74% of government agencies’ reported data breaches, the latest OAIC report shows, even as other industries averaged about 30%.

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The number of Australian data breaches due to human error declined significantly overall during the first half of 2021—but a surge in human-caused breaches in the public sector in the same period suggests that the ongoing pressures of rapid digital transformation are exacting a big toll on government workers.

New half-year figures from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) identified just 134 data breaches in all sectors due to human error during the first six months of 2021—down 34% from the 203 breaches recorded during the previous half-year. These human-caused breaches represented 30% of all data-breach notifications, down from 38% of notifications last year.

Human-caused data breaches: Good news, bad news

“Human error remains a major source of data breaches,” said Australian information commissioner and privacy commissioner Angelene Falk in releasing the new statistics, which detailed 446 data breaches reported during the first half of 2021. “Let’s not forget the human factor also plays a role in many cybersecurity incidents, with phishing being a good example. … Organisations can reduce the risk of human error by educating staff about secure information handling practices and putting technological controls in place.”

Overall, the OAIC recorded 54 cases where personal information was emailed to the wrong recipient and 31 cases of unauthorised disclosure where data about 523,998 people were released or published by accident. One of those breaches involved data of about 186,000 Australians, who were among 15.7 million individuals affected globally.

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