Australia an easy ‘testing ground’ for hackers: cyber industry chief


China is regarded as the chief suspect in the recent political hacks.

Ms Price said Australia was an attractive target to hackers of many stripes because it was a powerful economy, known globally for research and innovation, but had been slow to grasp the risks.

Credit:Illustration: Karl Hilzinger

“That makes for a pretty good testing ground,” she said.

Australia was a “really great opportunity for malicious actors to have a lot of fun and make the mistakes that they want to make before they then focus their attention on much bigger economies like the US and the UK.

“We are improving in our maturity, but when it comes to the cyber health of organisations – whether they be a public entity or a private entity – we’re still a little bit behind compared to the economies of the UK, of the US. Most of the European nations are more advanced than us.”

AustCyber is an independent but government-funded organisation set up as part of the 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda to foster Australia’s cyber security industry.

Ms Price said her assessment of Australia as a target had come from “thousands of conversations” with cyber security specialists in this country and overseas.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last month that the Liberal, Labor and National parties had all been hacked, along with Federal Parliament’s network.

Ms Price also said that as Australia exerted itself more on global strategic issues – as it had done over the past decade – it would become more of a cyber target. Events of the past few weeks were “an example of it”.

CrowdStrike’s Mr Sentonas said the rise in Chinese attacks on the US was “likely tied to an increased tension level between the two countries” and that this could similarly apply to Australia.

Some cyber experts have suggested China may target Australia more heavily because it is deeply upset about the decision to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from involvement in the 5G network.

Mr Sentonas said Australia would likely need to sharpen its responses to state-sponsored cyber attackers, including by “naming and shaming” violators and even launching prosecutions when possible, as the US did against two Chinese agents last year for intellectual property theft.

David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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