A cyberattack and a network outage: can Optus change its luck?
- The Optus network outage affected 10 million Australians.
- Hospitals, train and financial services were also impacted.
- The 14-hour outage was due to an error in routine software upgrade.
It’s been almost a week since half of Australia descended into an apocalyptic situation when the country’s second-largest telecommunication provider suffered a network outage. Not only were Optus customers not able to go online or communicate on the phone, but the network outage also disrupted train services, online banking services and even hospitals.
The outage, which lasted nearly 14 hours for some, is the second major incident to strike a SingTel-owned telco company. Last year, Optus suffered the country’s largest-ever data breach after cybercriminals got access to customer data. The data breach not only saw the telco company losing customers but also resulted in the Australian government implementing stricter laws on data privacy and management.
According to a report by The Guardian Australia, the outage was the result of an error in a routine software upgrade. In a statement, the telco company said the software upgrade took its network offline, resulting in staff having to physically reboot services across the country.
Specifically, changes to routing information from an international peering network after a routine software upgrade in the wee hours of the morning created an error that led to the outage.
“These routing information changes propagated through multiple layers in our network and exceeded preset safety levels on key routers which could not handle them. This resulted in those routers disconnecting from the Optus IP Core network to protect themselves,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.
“The restoration required a large-scale effort of the team, and in some cases required Optus to reconnect or reboot routers physically, requiring the dispatch of people across a number of sites in Australia. This is why restoration was progressive over the afternoon.”
How bad was the network outage?
The nearly 14-hour outage caused havoc in the country, as 10.1 million Optus customers went offline and lost communications. Those who tried to contact the telco hotline directly were left even more frustrated as the outage had also affected the hotline to report outages.
In Melbourne, train services were halted due to the outage. Ride-hailing services like Uber and 13Cabs saw a surge in demand but could not take bookings or even use their maps for directions. The EV charging network was also impacted.
Some banks have warned customers that online transactions and ATMs may not be fully working. Small businesses were also unable to complete transactions as their POS machines were not able to function due to the network outage. Put simply, businesses had to put up signs for cash only.
Both private and government hospitals were also impacted by the network outage. Not only were phone services down in hospitals, but communications with ambulances and other health providers were also affected. Some GPs were unable to send e-prescriptions, while doctors also had trouble contacting patients.
For some, the apocalyptic scenes from the outage served as a reminder of the concern of being too dependent on technology – especially a technology which underpins so much of what makes society work. It also served as a wake-up call for Australians to be more prepared to deal with such situations if they were to happen again in the future.
What’s next for Optus?
Things are not looking good for Optus at the moment. The company is still recovering from its data breach, and the recent outage does not make it the situateion any better for either the company or its customers. Australian regulators have already begun a full investigation not only into the cause of the outage but also into how Optus handled the entire situation.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority said it was examining whether Optus had complied with its regulatory obligations, which include ensuring emergency calls are transferred to Telstra when there is an outage and that “accurate and timely” information is provided to Australians.
The telco company had also just lost its bid in the federal court to keep secret a report on the cause of its cyberattack last year. The Guardian reported that after the hack, Optus recruited consultancy firm Deloitte to conduct a forensic assessment of what had led to the cyberattack. Since then, the company has also faced an investigation by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), and a class action case in the federal court.
At the same time, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, Optus CEO continues to face pressure over the company’s handling of the outage. Rosmarin will appear in person before a Senate inquiry this week, as it investigates the outage that left millions of its customers without internet or mobile phone coverage for up to 14 hours.
One thing is for certain. As Optus looks to recover, rival network Telstra seems to be enjoying the spillover as the company reports a surge of activity on its network since the outage.
6 December 2023
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