Cyber attacks: Australia launches strikes to shut down foreign criminal networks

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PM Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Australia, July 10, 2016. Reuters/Paul Miller/AAP

The cyber intelligence agency in Australia has unveiled strikes to shut down foreign criminal networks. The military strategy will also get a huge shake-up with a new information warfare division.

The news comes in the wake of a second global ransomware cyber attack that hit Aussie businesses this week. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the nation’s response to criminal cyber threats must not only be defensive. Instead, he said Australia should “take the fight to the criminals.”

The Aussie leader stressed that the cost of cybercrime to the economy had risen to more than $1 billion annually. He also announced the government had directed the Australian Signals Directorate to make use of its offensive cyber capabilities to “disrupt, degrade, deny and deter” organised offshore cyber criminals. The ASD, however, needs ministerial approval before it can launch any offensive operation.

Dan Tehan, the cyber safety minister, said the new cyber warfare unit will launch offensive cyber strikes on foreign forces as it defends the country’s military targets from online attacks. He explained it is a result of the changing character of contemporary conflict. The new unit is expected to have at least 100 personnel initially, which can grow to about 900 staff over the next decade.

Tehan added Down Under already possessed “outstanding” cyber capabilities within the military. He stressed the Friday’s announcement is about ensuring the nation keeps level with other countries, and that it manages to keep its capacity.

“This is not about catching up, this is about making sure we are staying at the cutting edge,” news.com.au quotes him as saying. Meanwhile, Greg Austin from the University of New South Wales told ABC the move was one of the biggest shifts in the country’s defence strategy. “The aim is to stop their ships being able to sail, stop their jet aircraft from being able to drop bombs and to stop their submarines dead in the water,” he said.

Since 2014, over 114,000 incidents of cybercrime have been recorded at the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. Cybercrime cases are on the rise, with 23,700 incidents reported to ACORN in the past six months.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has welcomed the move on cyber defences and assured it would receive bipartisan support. He added cyber threat was real and that Australia was already a target. He also urged the private sector to work with the government to perk up their protection.

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