Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that cyber security was “the new frontier of warfare” and espionage while announcing new measures to protect Australian democracy from foreign interference ::::
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared cybersecurity “the new frontier of warfare” and espionage while announcing new measures to protect Australian democracy from foreign interference.
Intelligence officials will host unprecedented security briefings with party officials in Canberra next month, amid concerns they may be vulnerable to foreign cyber attacks.
Mr Turnbull said the Government had been shocked by a United States intelligence report claiming Russia ordered a hidden campaign to influence the US presidential election.
The report, prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, said Russia had hacked into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee.
It also raised concerns Russia used state-funded trolls to make nasty comments online and influence political opinion, with Republican affiliates also targeted to a lesser extent.
Mr Turnbull said the case of Russian interference was “of great concern” and had prompted the security briefings.
“This is the new frontier of warfare — the new frontier of espionage. It’s the new frontier of many threats to Australian families, to governments, to businesses,” Mr Turnbull said.
“We need to be aware of the threats and how to mitigate and protect against them.
“Awareness is the most important first step.”
Mr Turnbull said he was not aware of a foreign country seeking to an influence an election to the extent of Russia’s involvement in the US election.
“I think you can pretend the threats are not there if you like, but that will only make you susceptible to being taken in by them,” he said.
Party officials will be briefed by Mr Turnbull’s special adviser on cybersecurity and Australian Cyber Security Centre and Australian Signals Directorate officials.
David Irvine, a former director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, has previously raised concerns about the threat of hacking by foreign governments.
Labor accuses Turnbull of ‘grandstanding’
The Opposition’s national security spokesman Mark Dreyfus wrote to Mr Turnbull, claiming he was using the briefings for political advantage.
“It is a longstanding tradition that the activities of our intelligence agencies and specific security vulnerabilities are not made public or discussed publicly in detail,” he said.
“I am very concerned that this issue has been publicised by you directly, including highlighting specific agencies, their functions and target areas considered as vulnerable.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would work with the Government, but accused Mr Turnbull of “grandstanding on national security”.
“I think the public has a right to know and the media has a right to report, but I also think that when it comes to national security these are not political footballs to be kicked around,” he said.
“We will work with the Government, they are right to say it’s an issue.”
Other nations learning from Russian activities: expert
Timothy Wellsmore, director of threat intelligence at global cyber security firm FireEye, said the threats to Australia went beyond China and Russia.
“We’ve seen some activities in this region from places that you wouldn’t expect — like Indonesia [and] even Vietnam,” said Mr Wellsmore, who formerly worked as a manager at the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
“There are a lot of other nations that will learn from Russian activities and will turn their offensive capabilities towards [targeting political interests] — if they haven’t already.”
Assistant Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan said every Australian political party must be vigilant and raised some concern about the upcoming Western Australia and Queensland elections.
“We have to make sure our political processes, our democratic processes, are protected from this type of intrusion,” he said.
“We want to make sure — and the Prime Minister is adamant about this — that across the board, and this goes beyond politics, that everyone is putting the proper mitigations in place.”
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said foreign nations could use subcontractors to infiltrate the Government and key departments.
“What exercises my mind is impressing upon business that they are potential targets for cyber espionage as other countries and companies attempt to get into our defence system through our subcontractors in defence,” he said.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson welcomed the cybersecurity briefings and said she would attend.
“We need to make sure we are not hacked and we need to know the dangers of it,” she said.
Government departments already targeted
Federal Government departments have already been penetrated by sophisticated cyber attacks, potentially compromising sensitive and confidential information.
In 2016, ABC News revealed Austrade and the Defence Department’s elite research division, the Defence Science Technology Group, had been infiltrated by Chinese-based hackers.
A foreign power also managed to install malicious software on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s computer system to steal sensitive documents, which may have compromised other government departments.
The Federal Government announced a $230 million cyber security strategy in April 2016, after concerns it was vulnerable to foreign attacks amid an “unprecedented” level of malicious activity.
The Government acknowledged the strategy would include “offensive strikes” to protect national interests.