The 'cyber securiry incident' has affected operations at ports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle

Sydney (AFP) - The Australian government said Saturday it was responding to a “significant cyber security incident” affecting several ports operated by DP World Australia that could last a number of days.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said on social media platform X the government was coordinating a response to the incident and that authorities were working with DP World Australia “to understand the impacts”.

O’Neil said the national crisis management framework employed during the Covid-19 pandemic was being used in response to the incident.

DP World Australia did not respond immediately to a request for comment from AFP.

However, the ports operator said in a statement quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald it had “restricted landside access to our Australian port operations while we continue our investigation” to safeguard employees, customers and its networks.

National Cyber Security Coordinator Darren Goldie said on X, formerly Twitter, that the “interruption is likely to continue for a number of days and will impact the movement of goods into and out of the country”.

“DP World Australia has advised it has restricted access to its Australian port operations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle while it investigates the incident,” he said.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre, which leads the government’s digital security responses, was advising the port operator and “providing technical advice and assistance”, he said.

The National Emergency Management Agency and National Coordination Mechanism, which streamlines a crisis response, will meet together on Sunday, Goldie said, adding that federal police have launched an investigation.

Goldie, an air marshal in the Royal Australian Air Force, was appointed the inaugural national coordinator last July in response to a number of key cyber attacks.

Cybersecurity experts have said inadequate safeguards and the stockpiling of sensitive customer information have made Australia a lucrative target in the eyes of hackers.

Medibank, Australia’s largest private health insurer, said in November 2022 that hackers had accessed the data of 9.7 million current and former customers, including medical records related to drug abuse and pregnancy terminations.

Just two months earlier, telecom company Optus fell prey to a data breach of similar scale in which the personal details of up to 9.8 million people were accessed.

Those two incidents were among the largest data breaches in Australian history.

Optus, Australia’s second-largest phone provider, apologised to its more than 10 million customers this week over a “technical network outage” that crashed electronic payments, disrupted phone lines used by emergency services and stopped people accessing government services.

The Australian government has launched an investigation into that unexplained glitch, although it has not been described as a cyber attack.

There were 76,000 cybercrimes reported to the Australian Cyber Security Centre last year, although experts warn many more go unreported.