Australia’s Hiring a 500-Strong Cyber Spy Army

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The Australian government plans to recruit 500 new cyber spies to help fight foreign attacks in a billion-dollar funding announcement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed $1.35 billion would be dedicated to hiring the new team for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) over the next decade.

Defence minister Linda Reynolds said it would work to put Australia’s spy agencies on the front foot when it comes to cyber attacks from foreign actors.

“This package will enable ASD and Australia’s major telecommunications providers to prevent malicious cyber activity from reaching millions of Australians by blocking known malicious websites and computer viruses at speed,” Reynolds said in the media release.

“This package is one part of our $15 billion investment in cyber and information warfare capabilities that will form part of Defence’s 2020 Force Structure Plan to address the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape.”

Cyber spy army announced two weeks after “massive” foreign attack

It comes just shortly after Morrison announced a number of Australian sectors, including education and health, had been targeted by an ongoing “massive” state-based cyber attack in mid-June.

“We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting and the trade craft used,” Morrison said in the press conference on June 19.

Morrison did not state the country responsible for the attacks but indicated the government was aware of who the primary suspects were.

While the announcement seemed abrupt, Dr Ralph Holz, a cyber security lecturer, told Gizmodo Australia it was likely just a case of routine espionage gone awry.

“I would be highly surprised if reconnaissance isn’t being done routinely by pretty much every country around the globe who has a modicum of capability,” Dr Holz said.

“You always would like to be informed about your opponents and sometimes even about your allies.”

Further details of the attacks were revealed by the ACSC, showing the hackers used ‘copy-paste’ methods to breach government and private sector IT systems.

Despite the government labelling the campaign as “sophisticated”, those methods, Dr Holz said, were anything but.

“Normally, copy-paste attacks are used by people who don’t have a lot of sophistication,” Dr Holz said.

“At the same time, the government says it is sophisticated. I guess once again, they’re referring to the scale rather than just the attack being tried against low value targets.

“Without the government releasing more information about the reasoning — what makes them call this sophisticated and what makes them call this a really broad-scale attack — all we can do is speculate.”