The Albanese government will launch a series of exercises to protect critical infrastructure assets and ward off a “dystopian future” in which cyberattacks could upend everyday life in the nation’s major cities.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the government was preparing for a world where advanced cyberattacks using quantum decryption could compromise previously safe data sets, and the nation’s “interconnected cities are held hostage through interference in everything from traffic lights to surgery schedules”.
The minister said the government was preparing for worst-case scenarios following last year’s major Optus and Medibank data breaches.
Between these breaches and last week’s attack on Latitude Financial – in which an estimated 14 million customer records were accessed by hackers – O’Neil said virtually every Australian had been directly affected by a cyberattack or knew someone who had been.
“Instead of data breaches, we could have data integrity attacks – where small errors are induced in compromised sets with outsize implications, such as financial records,” O’Neil told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue on Tuesday.
O’Neil, who is responsible for cybersecurity, described financially motivated hackers and extortionists as “public enemy number one”.
“These groups subvert legitimate business models for financial gain, creating online portals for ‘hacking as a service’ where anyone can purchase the tools and support necessary to conduct a cyber incident or data, especially in the form of a ransomware attack.”
Meanwhile, she said state-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) were the “apex predators” of the cyber world.
“We’ve seen examples where APTs infiltrate and infest critical infrastructure systems or attempt to take them over in order to exert leverage,” she said.
“APTs can be the hardest threat to tackle, demanding the full spectrum of our brightest minds and deepest technical knowledge to detect and deter, because of the sophistication of their tools, techniques and procedures and the scale of deployment that can usually only be generated with the resources of a nation state behind them.”
O’Neil announced the rollout of a national series of cyber exercises for critical infrastructure assets such as electricity networks, ports, airlines and telecommunications providers.
“This exercise series will build muscle memory in how to deal with a cyberattack and importantly cover the types of incidents we have not yet experienced on a national scale such as a lock-up of critical infrastructure or integrity attacks on critical data,” she said.
“Critically it will look at how to work with governments including dealing with the consequences of a crisis that inevitably will not impact just one company but potentially millions of Australians.”
O’Neil is overseeing the creation of a cybersecurity strategy designed to make Australia the world’s safest cyber nation by 2030.
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