Australia’s cyber defence force will go on the attack, target foreign criminals

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Australia’s cyber intelligence agency will be given the power to launch offensive operations to shut down foreign criminal networks, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced.

The federal government has directed the Australian Signals Directorate to expand its cyber warfare operations from a military role to “disrupt, degrade, deny and deter” organised offshore criminals.

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That includes targeting those responsible for the recent spate of global ransomware attacks.

“Our response to criminal cyber threats should not just be defensive. We must take the fight to the criminals,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Cybercriminals are finding new ways to gain access to victims and extort money, he said.

“As their level of sophistication has improved, cyber criminals are increasingly targeting businesses directly.”

The government will target criminals wherever they seek to hurt Australians, but the public – including businesses – also has a role to play.

Since the end of 2014, more than 114,000 suspected cyber crimes have been reported, 23,700 alone in the past six months.

“We must work together to share threat information and learn from each other about the online threats that seek to do us harm,” Mr Turnbull said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten described cyber warfare as the new frontline for national security.

While the Australian Signals Directorate was world-class, it needed the tools and resources to help protect “soft targets” from criminals, he said, adding that industry also needed to pitch in and work with government to harden their defences.

“It may be inconvenient and frustrating and expensive to put up the defences now but it is more inconvenient and more frustrating and more expensive if you are the victim of this cyber warfare and this cyber hacking,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

At the same time as the Federal Government’s announcement, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security presented a bipartisan report recommending a new set of laws to protect Australia’s telecommunications networks from sabotage and foreign interference.

The committee, requested by Attorney-General George Brandis to look into the potential laws in November last year, has also made 12 further recommendations it says will provide greater certainty for industry and greater transparency on the potential new laws’ operation.

AAP, with Fairfax Media