Federal and state authorities were warned two weeks ago that an online app hosted on Russian servers was being used to generate fraudulent Covid check-in confirmations and bypass Australian government contact-tracing systems.
The Guardian on Thursday revealed that anti-lockdown Telegram groups and conspiracy websites were promoting an app that instantly generated fake check-in confirmations to dupe businesses.
The program allows users to put in a name and location, before generating a check-in confirmation that appears near-identical to those produced by official government apps in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.
The Guardian has now learned the app was brought to the attention of multiple government agencies roughly two weeks ago.
A public tip-off, with screenshot evidence of the fake check-in confirmations, was sent to the various health departments and state police forces in all three states. Reports were also made to Crime Stoppers, the Australian federal police and via Covid-19 hotlines. The apps still remain online and accessible.
A spokesperson for the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, condemned the use of the apps saying contact tracing was a â€œvital part of Australiaâ€™s suppression strategyâ€.
The minister expected state governments to react swiftly to anyone â€œwilfully breaching public health ordersâ€.
â€œFalsifying contact tracing information is not only illegal, but it puts them, their families and the entire community at risk of Covid-19 transmission,â€ the spokesperson said. â€œStates and territories have responded swiftly to anyone found to be wilfully breaching public health orders and we trust they will continue to do so.â€
In a statement, NSW Health said it was vital that businesses and organisations were able to collect and keep accurate details to minimise the spread of Covid.
â€œIf tracing teams are not able to obtain reliable information, people are unknowingly placed at risk and the virus can continue to spread throughout the community,â€ the department said.
Queensland Health directed questions to the stateâ€™s police and Victoriaâ€™s health department referred the Guardian to Services Victoria.
Geolocation data suggests the app is hosted on Russian servers which would make it more difficult for authorities to remove.
The coding used suggests it has been developed by either a professional programmer or a skilled amateur.
The app is being shared among Telegram groups that were associated with last monthâ€™s lockdown rallies. The Guardian has identified at least six Telegram groups with about 15,000 members that have promoted the apps.
The app shares at least some links with a Covid conspiracy website, which the Guardian has chosen not to name. The website is promoting the app and saying it will let people enter premises â€œwithout arguing with the business ownerâ€.
â€œThis simple workaround creates what looks like a Covid QR tick of approval, but it doesnâ€™t send your private information to the government,â€ the website states.
The website suggests that businesses will be quickly duped by the likeness of the confirmation screen to official government apps. â€œMost people will see the tick and not examine the screen too closely,â€ users are told.