New Australian cyber unit to target overseas criminals

By on 11/07/2017
International cyber crime is on the rise (Image courtesy: Chief Photographer/MOD).

Australia has launched a new information warfare unit, charged with combating cyber criminals abroad and defending the country’s military infrastructure.

The unit, whose creation was announced at the end of June, has opened with 100 staff; numbers are expected to grow to 900 within 10 years. It will employ both military personnel and civilian public service employees.

The new unit will play a central role in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), integrating cyber operations across the army, navy and airforce, and is seen as a major shift in the country’s defence strategy.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave the go-ahead on Friday for the force’s offensive cyber capabilities, which have previously been used against terrorist organisations, to be employed against overseas cyber criminals as well.

“Given the growing cost of cybercrime to the Australian economy, the government has directed the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to use its offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt, degrade, deny and deter organised offshore cybercriminals,” he said in a statement.

“The use of this capability, which is currently used to help target, disrupt and defeat terrorist organisations such as Daesh, is subject to stringent legal oversight and consistent with our obligations under international law.”

Citing the recent Wannacry and Petya ransomware attacks, Turnbull said cyber criminals were increasingly targeting businesses directly as their level of sophistication improved.

“Our response to criminal cyber threats should not just be defensive,” he said. “We must take the fight to the criminals.”

Cyber security minister Dan Tehan said AUS$400 million (US$304m or €267m) allocated to boosting cyber capabilities in last year’s defence white paper will help to fund the recruitment drive for the new unit, ITNews Australia reported.

“[The funding will] ensure that we can employ the personnel that we need to stand up a division like this and ensure that our military has the personnel and capability to keep us cyber safe,” he said.

Major General Marcus Thompson, deputy chief of information warfare with the Australian Defence Force, highlighted the recruitment challenges arising from its cyber strategy at a Cyber Security Summit last year. These include pay and the military’s physical entry standards.

To help address the recruitment challenges, any member of the ADF with the right attributes – regardless of pay, rank, corps or gender – could be trained in cyber operations, under an approach to selection based on “attributes rather than skills”, he indicated.

Professor Greg Austin, of the University of New South Wales, said Australia was “relatively undeveloped” in cyber warfare and the unit was one of the biggest shifts in its defence strategy, ABC News reported.

“We’re well behind the United States but the good news is Russia and China, potential adversaries of Australia, only really joined this cyber arms race in the relatively recent past,” he said.

Cybercrime is estimated to cost the Australian economy AUS$1bn (US$759m or €666m) a year. A total of 23,700 cybercrime incidents have been registered with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) in the last six months

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See also:

Global ransomware attack used info stolen from NSA, says Microsoft

New international centre to challenge state-led fake news and cyber attacks

Germany announces new cyber security unit in wake of terror attacks

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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