Human factor dominates latest data breach statistics


Data breaches attributed to human error continue to increase according to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) latest Notifiable Data Breaches Report.

The OAIC received 539 data breach notifications from July to December 2020, an increase of 5% on the previous six months (512).

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said 38% of all data breaches notified during the period were attributed to human error.

“In the past six months, we saw an increase in human error breaches both in terms of the total number of notifications received – up 18% to 204 – and proportionally – up from 34% to 38%,” Commissioner Falk said.

“The human factor is also a dominant theme in many malicious or criminal attacks, which remain the leading source of breaches notified to my office.

“Organisations need to reduce the risk of a data breach by addressing human error – for example, by prioritising training staff on secure information handling practices.”

Malicious or criminal attack accounted for 310 notifications during the period (58%) and system fault was responsible for 25 notifications (5%).

Health service providers again notified the most data breaches (23%) of any industry sector, followed by finance, which notified 15% of all breaches.

For the first time, the Australian Government entered the top 5 industry sectors by notifications, accounting for 6% of all breaches, with human error the leading cause.

“Ensuring the security of personal information is an area of regulatory focus for the OAIC, particularly in the health and finance industries, which have consistently been the top two sectors to report breaches,” Commissioner Falk said.

The OAIC is also calling for entities to have effective systems in place for responding to data breaches.

“Being prepared for a data breach is important for all entities that handle personal information,” Commissioner Falk said.

“Entities must have effective systems for detecting, containing, assessing, notifying and reviewing data breaches.

“Critically, they need to provide individuals with clear and timely information about data breaches, including recommendations on steps they can take to protect themselves from harm. Any unnecessary delay in providing this information undermines the purpose of the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme.”

Commissioner Falk said entities should use the information and guidance provided in the report to help review their processes and ensure they are fit for purpose.

“We are nearing three years of operation of the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme and expect that entities have systems in place to report breaches in line with legislative requirements,” she said.

“We also expect organisations to have improved the security of personal information they hold to prevent breaches.

“We will continue to closely monitor compliance with the scheme and prioritise regulatory action where there are significant failings.” 

Read the Notifiable Data Breaches Report for July to December 2020.

About the OAIC

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is an independent statutory agency established to promote and uphold privacy and information access rights. It has a range of regulatory responsibilities and powers under the Privacy Act 1988Freedom of Information Act 1982, and Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010.