The Australian government is stepping-up our defence against cyber-attacks. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced a $230 million cyber security strategy in an effort to address the costly issue of cyber-crime.
The crackdown is designed to thwart malware attacks, and the theft of data and intellectual property through cyber espionage. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) will receive an additional $16 million and $20.4 million in funding respectively to assist with threat detection, technical analysis and forensic assessment, and an extra 101 cyber security experts will be brought-in to provide advice and assistance.
The government has also invested in information-sharing. $39 million will be spent to move the Australian Cyber Security Centre from Canberra, and $47 million to establish threat sharing centres in capital cities. An online portal will be introduced to improve cooperation between private businesses and government agencies, and $15 million is allocated for grants to enable small businesses to upgrade protections.
Recognising the skills shortage in cyber security, the government has recommended expanding relevant training in TAFEs, and developing new cyber security apprenticeships.
Impact of Cyber Attacks
The Attorney-General’s Department estimates the direct costs of cyber-crime in Australia to be $2 billion per year.
The cost is said to be rising at a rate of at least 20 percent per year. In 2011, 313 attacks triggered a response by the Australian Signals Directorate, the relevant agency within the ¬Department of Defence. The number nearly quadrupled to 1131 in 2014.
CISCO chief security and trust officer, John Stewart, says that apart from reducing the direct cost of security breaches, the government’s package will help to encourage digital development in a range of industries. “Australia must realize that sectors like transportation and agriculture ─ those traditionally not viewed as IT industries ─ absolutely are IT-enabled businesses today,” Mr Stewart said. “Australia must embrace cyber security as a key differentiator and business advantage to be globally competitive and prosperous.”
Cyber espionage is also a significant concern – posing a threat to our national interests. In December 2015, the Bureau of Meteorology reported that China had engaged in a major cyber-attack which compromised the data of several Federal agencies. The Bureau owns one of Australia’s largest supercomputers, providing highly-sensitive information to a range of agencies, including the Department of Defence. It believes that major attacks have the potential to cost our nation billions.
In its first unclassified threat report in 2015, the Australian Cyber Security Centre described the threat to Australia as “undeniable” and “unrelenting”, and said it “continues to grow”. The Centre “sees daily cyber espionage activity targeting Australian Government networks”, which seek to gain a strategic advantage in business activities and foreign policy negotiations.
Australia a Prime Target
IT security company Symantec recently released its yearly Internet Security Threat Report, which confirmed that Australian individuals and businesses are being specifically targeted by cyber-criminals. The report found that Australia is now the prime target for ransomware attacks in the Southern Hemisphere, with the number of unique malware attacks up 36% from last year.
In addition to government agencies and large corporations, attacks on individuals are also becoming increasingly common. It is reported that a whopping 60% of Australians have been a victim of cybercrime during their lifetime, and nearly 47% of this groups have been targeted in the past 12 months.
Symantec reports that “Australia is seen as a great target by cybercriminals because we are a sophisticated economy, with high disposable incomes, good connectivity and a high concentration of connected devices.”
The Road Ahead
There is a general consensus that the government’s package is a step in the right direction – It is hoped that dedicated defence agencies and knowledge sharing will help to combat the cyber threat, and deter criminals from focusing on our affluent society.
But as cyber criminals become more and more sophisticated, many fear that we will always be one step behind.