Tasmanian Casinos Hit with Ransomware


The Australian island of Tasmania is known for its natural beauty, from mountains and waterfalls to a seemingly endless supply of national parks. It is not, however, known for computer viruses and cyber attacks.

Unfortunately, that’s starting to change.

Federal Group, the lone casino operator in the state, has recently been hit with ransomware attacks. The online assault started on April 3rd and has impacted both pokies and hotel booking systems at the Country Club and Wrest Point casinos.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware, which is any software specifically designed with the intention of causing harm. In this case, ransomware blocks access to a user’s data, or threatens to expose it, unless a ransom is paid (usually with cryptocurrency).

While amateur ransomware attacks are often easy to thwart, more serious attempts border on impossible. And since many demand payment in Bitcoin or paysafecard, finding and punishing the perpetrators is no easy task.

These attacks have steadily risen over the last decade. There were a staggering 181.5 million reported ransomware attacks in the first six months of 2018, which was an increase of 229% over the previous year.

CryptoLocker and CryptoWall are two of the most successful attacks of this kind. Before authorities managed to close in, the former took in $3 million and the latter accrued $18 million.

Attack on the Federal Group

According to Dr. Daniel Hanna, the executive director of Federal Group, the attack occurred on April 3rd. He stated it had been contained, but he was unable to specify when hotel check-in services and pokies would be available. Affected locations include the Henry Jones Art Hotel, MACq 01, Saffire Freycinet, Wrest Point, and the Country Club casino.

In an interview, Dr. Hannah stated, “The Australian Cyber Security Centre was notified and is coordinating relevant law enforcement agencies and continued forensic analysis.”

And like a true corporate mouthpiece, he added, “Federal Group has at all times complied with legal and regulatory requirements related to the incident.”

A Bigger Problem

Some former IT experts for Federal Group have expressed concern that both credit card data and electronic gaming systems may have been compromised. Dr. Hanna refused to directly comment on this matter; only saying that such sources “cannot be relied on to provide accurate information.”

If their pokies stay down for long, it would have a major effect on Federal Group’s bottom line. During the last eight months, their gaming venues have pulled in $53.7 million from punters ($6.7 million per month).

The Privacy Act covers the Federal Group, which means the latter must notify both affected individuals and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. This is especially true when a data breach is “likely to result in serious harm to an individual whose personal information is involved.” So far, there’s no word on whether either has been contacted, although Federal Group has been rather quite on the subject.

Opinions of a Cyber Expert

Terry Aulich, a former Tasmanian politician and current security consultant, expected such an attack. According to him, any gambling operation would be “high on the list” of serious hackers.

“Young kids are not going to have a go at you if you’re a casino, but it’s groups of major crooks that are going to be your enemy.”

Aulich stated that he has written three Tasmanian organizations and warned of possible cyber attacks. However, none of them seemed especially concerned. He believes this is due to the mindset that outside problems won’t come calling on “dear little old Tassie.”

“That’s entirely untrue. They will look for the weakest link in Australian society, in Australian business, and it may well be that Tasmania is one of those.”