ASD cleared for cyber attacks on offshore criminal networks

The Australian Signals Directorate has been cleared to use its offensive cyber capabilities to target “organised offshore cyber criminalnetworks”, the government announced today.

“The use of offensive cybercapabilities is one of the optionsthe Government is pursuing as partof a broader strategy to prevent and shut down safe havens for offshorecyber criminals,” the minister assisting the prime minister for cyber security, Dan Tehan, said this morning.

Tehan said that while ASD’s offensive capabilities had been targeted previously at terrorists, this was the first time it had been directed to attack foreign criminal networks.

Questioned about the risks of provoking other nations by targeting the criminals they harboured, Tehan said the risk of inaction was greater.

“The only risk that we runis if we are not investing in thiscapability, if we are not giving ourmilitary intelligence the capabilityto be able to act is that we makeourselves less secure. This is allabout ensuring the nation'ssecurity,” he said.

Any offensive actions would be subject tostringent legal oversight and consistent with International Rules-based order and Australia’s obligations under internationallaw, Tehan added.

Front foot

The ASD’s “offensive cyber capability” was first acknowledged in April last year, during the launch of the government’s cyber security strategy.

In November, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbulltold parliament that those capabilities were supporting offensive operations against Islamic State.

The ASD’s capabilities “provide us with the capacity to deter and respond to cyber attacks against Australia,” Turnbull explained at the time.

In July last year, the ASD launched a recruitment campaignto help boost the government’s offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

The agency sought offensive cyber operators, penetration testers, software developers, vulnerability researchers, and network and system admins.

“The positions include specialists to help develop Australia’s offensive cyber capability to deny, degrade or disrupt adversaries if they try to attack Australian computers or networks,” a Department of Defence spokesperson toldComputerworld Australia at the time.

The clearance to target criminals was part of an effort to keep the nation’s businesses, citizens and governments secure, Tehan said today.

“We have to makesure that we are keeping the mums and dads, the small businesses, thelarge businesses, government departments and agencies secure inthis nation and that is why we have made this direction to theAustralian Signals Directorate,” he said.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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