Home Security 'Your Telstra Tools': an accidentally apt name due to privacy breach

Whoever is responsible for Telstra's site "accidentally" leaking private email and other information is probably feeling like quite the "accidental" foolish tool, with the leak discovered by a member of the public.

I was reading an interesting story on a Telstra privacy breach over at the 9News website, which noted that non-tech-savvy 63-year-old Robert Irvine told the site he had accidentally discovered 65,000 results containing "names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers".

The article notes Irvine had somehow logged into the now-disabled "Your Telstra Tools" part of Telstra's site, and had merely searched for the term "email" in the hope he might be able to fix an email issue he was having, and was incredibly surprised to see the private contact details of so many people being listed.

He called a couple of the numbers to verify they were real, and indeed, Irvine reports that they were.

I then noted the Telstra Exchange Blog had listed an article entitled "‘Your Telstra Tools’: Keeping you informed", written by Michael Ackland, the head of Sales and Service at Telstra.

Ackland stated: "You may have heard about concerns regarding Telstra’s online help service for Enterprise and Small Business customers called Your Telstra Tools.

"As you’d expect, we take the privacy and security of our customers extremely seriously – so we took the immediate step to disable Your Telstra Tools while our IT Security team investigated.

"The team identified emails from Telstra to 18 customers about planned network interruptions, had been made available to three customers who performed a specific search on the site. The issue was caused by an error in the system’s search function.

"We regularly communicate with our customers about our planned network interruptions, including emailing them in advance. The information in the emails is similar to what you would find on a business card or website, such as names, business names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.

"We have begun contacting and apologising to the small number of affected customers.

"The privacy and security of our customers remains a priority – and we remain vigilant to keep our data and systems safe and secure."

Interestingly, the "tags" listed for this article at Telstra Exchange is simply a single tag: data. Why this list of tags does not include "security" or "privacy" is unknown, you'd imagine Telstra has written articles about privacy and security before.

In any case, I'm quite certain no-one at Telstra wants to be known as the company's biggest tool, so let's hope the company not only investigates how this information was leaked by an "error in the system's search function", which sounds like a pretty fundamental error, but that Telstra's IT security team does a top-to-bottom security audit of the entire company.

Clearly, in the age of hacked medical databases in Singapore, of Australian Census websites being DDoSed, with thousands opting-out of the Australian Federal Government's MyHealth online record system and more, no company, and especially not Telstra, can afford to have privacy scandals anywhere near as regularly as it has had network outages.

So, let's hope this doesn't happen again and that Telstra's IT team does an extremely thorough job in pen-testing and strengthening Telstra's networks and data from internal and external threats, foreign and domestic, so the only thing we have left to perennially complain about with Telstra is its inconsistent customer service.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

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