HIV organisations’ urgent plea after ‘deplorable’ Medibank hack

Logo of Medibank, the private health insurance company caught up in a serious data breach
Image: Medibank

Top HIV support organisations and other health groups have called on social media giants – as well as the Australian public – to “do their part” to stop the spread of hacked Medibank health insurnace data online.

On Sunday night, the Russian hacker group behind the major data breach posted stolen data on 500 more Australians to the dark web. The latest round of Medibank customer data reportedly includes claims for mental health treatment and other health conditions.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) on Monday joined with Mental Health Australia, the Consumer Health Forum and the Australian Council of Social Services to call on social media giants to help curb the “further spread of the stolen data and prevent it being weaponised for blackmail.”

AFAO CEO Darryl O’Donnell said the companies must work to protect the privacy of affected Australians, including those living with HIV.

O’Donnell said the exposure of someone’s confidential health information can profoundly impact their lives.

“We know traditional media outlets will be responsible by not participating in disseminating this confidential data, and incentivising this criminal behaviour,” he said.

“But we need social media platforms to do the same.

“We call on Twitter and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to assure Australians they will pull any posts that share data from the Medibank breach.

“We also ask all Australians to band together by not seeking out or sharing hacked information.

“This is something all of us can do to send a signal to the hackers that we won’t be blackmailed.”

‘Weaponisation of HIV status is beneath contempt’

On Wednesday (November 9), it was incorrectly reported an initial disclosure of 100 Australians’ stolen data had included HIV status. Medibank confirmed on Wednesday this was not the case.

But NAPWHA said it was “an unsettling time” for many knowing the data may be in the hands of hackers.

NAPWHA President Scott Harlum said Australians living with HIV “have dealt with enough stigma”.

“This is a terrible situation for people with HIV, who are fearful of being extorted,” he said.

“The weaponisation of HIV status for financial gain is beneath contempt.

“We shouldn’t be in this situation. We ask everyone to play their part in stopping the breach from going further.”

He urged those who are concerned to reach out for support. If someone claims to have your data, immediately contact police.

Medibank CEO says ‘there are real people behind this data’

Mental Health Australia CEO Dr Leanne Beagley said on Monday the latest data release is “causing immense distress and concern” to people.

“The status of a person’s health is theirs alone to know, understand and manage and, if they choose, share,” she said.

“It is not for anyone else to comment on, publicise or use to inflict shame.”

On Monday, Medibank CEO David Koczkar blasted the hackers’ latest release of data as “deplorable”.

“These are real people behind this data,” he said.

“The misuse of their data is deplorable and may discourage them from seeking medical care.

“Anyone who downloads this data from the dark web – which is more complicated than searching for information in a public internet forum – and attempts to profit from it is committing a crime.”

Koczkar said Medibank is contacting affected customers.

“If customers are concerned, they should reach out for support from our cybercrime hotline, our mental health support line, Beyond Blue, Lifeline or their GP,” he said.

“Our focus remains resolutely on doing everything we can to make sure our customers are supported during this difficult time.”

The Medibank “cyber incident” first came to light late last month.

In total, around 9.7 million current and former Medibank, ahm and associated customers have had personal details stolen.

The insurer says hackers also accessed health claims for about 160,000 Medibank customers, 300,000 ahm customers and 20,000 international customers.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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