The ‘uncomfortable’ debate about offensive cyber attacks becomes more public as the security environment evolves


The debate over Australia’s use of offensive tactics to counter cyberattacks will be increasingly public, said a security expert, after the Australian Signals Branch stressed its role as both “poacher and of gamekeeper ”.

ASD chief executive Rachel Noble told the National Press Club on Thursday how Australia’s offensive cyber capabilities are being used to “hit back” against malicious offshore cybercriminals.

“We never look for conflict,” Noble stressed. “But we want our opponents to know that we are here. We want them to calculate: Today is not the day.

Speech follows former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirming that Australia had an offensive cybernetic capability in 2016.

ANU National Security College Senior Policy Advisor William Stoltz said Mandarin ASD was unique in recognizing its proactive offensive ability, and he gave Noble credit for keeping it in the public eye.

“We came out of operations targeting the Middle East and these operations were conducted with obvious military cover,” Stoltz said.

“We have left that time and are now entering a period where our targets will be much closer to home and not in a state of open conflict.”

He said a sophisticated public discussion of Australia’s risk aversion should be, and how security guards targeted and potentially interfered with malicious actors was necessary.

“It’s a bit uncomfortable for a country like ours. It is time for us to have a public debate, ”said Stoltz. “The strategic environment demands that our leaders have a more robust approach to risk than in the past. ”

Australia earlier in the year was part of the countries that said, Chinese state security agencies were behind an attack on Microsoft Exchange mail in January.

Stoltz pointed to the example as proof that the environment is becoming more and more complex, with some cases involving overt state actors, and others more murky state involvement.

In another case, Noble in his speech detailed how the ADS blocked “one malicious IP address at a time ”after observing criminals texting Australians fake COVID support payments, but discovered that criminal efforts were coordinated and stronger offensive tactics were needed.

“We have used our covert online operations and computer network attack capabilities to infiltrate and destroy the union from within,” she said.

Noble also pointed out that a quarter of cybersecurity attacks reported to ADS last year targeted critical infrastructure, including energy, water, telecommunications and healthcare.

She used the address to underline Australia’s cybersecurity was better served by a range of intelligence agencies than a stand-alone body, among “Contemplation” on whether the growing domain of government should be consolidated.

“I would advise against it,” Noble said. “Our partnerships with other governments, including our states and territories and the private sector, can give Australia the best possible picture of the national threat.”

Stolz, who pleaded for a new intelligence minister supervise the “large and complex security portfolio, agreed that a range of agencies with cybersecurity roles were needed.

ASD’s main role will above all be to support ADF missions abroad, ”he said. “It’s quite different from the Australian Federal Police, which have a pretty different ring when it comes to protecting victims and prosecuting crimes.”

Noble’s speech also referred to the history and ongoing “incredible” intelligence alliance that Australia had with the Five Eyes – of which the other members are Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States.

Stoltz said that, as part of Australia’s AUKUS pact with the US and UK, countries are potentially considering how the Five Eyes Alliance might evolve in the new environment.

While noble Last week said the Five Eyes were unlikely to admit new members, Stoltz felt the alliance should be run more strategically after evolving into a less formal grouping.

“NATO has a central secretariat… [and] a permanent team to strategically guide the organization. I think Five Eyes needs a similar structure ”, said Stoltz.

“The New Zealand Foreign Minister has already expressed his reluctance to see Five Eyes used in this way.

“I think it’s inevitable, we have to look at these things from a new perspective.”


Addressing growing threats to Australia’s cybersecurity


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