Australia launches new initiative for blocking scam government texts

2,500 scam texts were blocked in 12 months as part of the government initiative's pilot program.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

The federal government has launched a new initiative to block scam text messages posing as legitimate government sender IDs.

The new initiative was launched following a year-long pilot program that focused on capturing phishing texts appearing to originate from government agencies such as Centrelink, myGov, and the Australian Taxation Office.

"The success of this initiative is timely, given the use of MyGov has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have written to NBN Co, Australia Post, and the banks strongly encouraging them to apply the same process to text messages they send," Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher said.

According to Fletcher, the pilot program blocked around 2,500 scam texts over 12 months.

The initiative was developed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Services Australia, and the telecommunications sector.

At the same time, Fletcher provided an update on the Reducing Scam Calls Code, saying that over 214 million scam calls have been blocked since telcos were required to adopt the code in December. By comparison, telcos had blocked 30 million scam calls last year prior to the code's rollout.  

Australian Communications and Media Authority chair Nerida O' Loughlin said yesterday at Senate Estimates that while the scam call code has been successfully adopted by telcos, it was now working with the telecommunications industry to create a new code targeting scam text messages.

"We're now working with the industry around what they do about SMS scams and the industry itself is developing some new enforceable obligations on the telcos to identify, trace, block and disrupt those SMS scams. We expect that they will put a code in by the end of this year," O' Loughlin said.

On Monday, Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo told Senate Estimates that his department was also in talks with the telecommunications industry, with those discussions being focused on providing telcos additional more powers to block spam and malicious content under the Telecommunications Act.

Federal government launches new AU$15 million cyber education program

The federal government has also announced a new cyber education program, called the Questacon Cyber Ready program, aimed at providing cybersecurity skills to students across primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

With almost AU$15 million, to be spent over five years, being allocated to the program, the Questacon Cyber Ready program will provide students with training modules that have been designed to build skills relevant to cybersecurity.

There are also training modules designed for teachers and professionals within the program.

Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said the program, which has a particular focus on underrepresented groups, would sit alongside other cyber education initiatives, such as the Engineering is Elementary program, in equipping younger Australians with cyber skills.

"We want to increase the cyber education initiatives available to young Australians, including those in regional and remote areas, and boost the participation of women, Indigenous, and neuro-diverse people," Price said.

According to the Hays Salary Guide Report FY21/22, which is based on survey results of nearly 3,500 organisations, 68% of the local technology industry is suffering from skills shortages.

"Technology is a huge one because the demand for technology is exponential [such as] cloud-based specialists, UX/UI, cybersecurity. In those areas, there is a real shortage of talent and skills," Hays Australia and New Zealand managing director Nick Deligiannis said at the time.

Updated at 4:20pm AEST, 27 October 2021: Added comments about potential scam text code by ACMA chair Nerida O' Loughlin.

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