Australian intelligence agency declassifies information in cyber terror fight

“Daesh communications were degraded within seconds. Terrorist commanders couldn’t connect to the internet and were unable to communicate with each other,” Mr Burgess is expected to say.


“The terrorists were in disarray and driven from their position — in part because of the young men and women at their keyboards some 11,000 kilometres or so from the battle.”

In another operation, ASD hackers mounted cyber attacks against the IS media machine, which was critical to the group’s global propaganda and radicalisation efforts.

“We locked the terrorists out of their servers and destroyed propaganda material, undermining Daesh’s ability to spread hate and recruit new members,” Mr Burgess will outline. “In these operations, cyber operators at computers in Canberra helped fight and defeat terrorists on the other side of the world.”

He will also detail an example of an ASD operative assuming a false identity and communicating with a man who had been radicalised and was seeking to fight for an extremist group.

“The risks were significant and the stakes were high. If the terrorists didn’t accept the newcomer, they would likely execute him. If the terrorists did accept him, he would be further radicalised and trained to kill.

“It was literally a life and death scenario.”

The “covert online operator” — a job that has not been publicly revealed by the agency until now — tracked down the man, pretended to be a terrorist commander and gained his trust.

“Eventually, she convinced the aspiring terrorist to abandon his plan for jihad and move to another country where our partner agencies could ensure he was no longer a danger to others or himself,” Mr Burgess will say.

In the push to attract more talent to the agency, Mr Burgess will emphasise that the staff of ASD come from a range of diverse professional backgrounds.

“We suspect a lot of people wrongly concluded that our offensive cyber mission was just for techies. Or even worse, that we were looking for those cavalier hackers in the movies,” he says.

Mr Burgess’ speech does not provide new details on the “sophisticated” hacking of Australia’s major political parties and the Parliament House computer system earlier this year.

Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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