Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is Australia a gateway for cyber-spying on the USA?

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that it may be.

CYBER espionage is being used against Australia on a ''massive scale'' and some foreign spies are using Australian government networks to penetrate the cyber defences of allies such as the US, ASIO chief David Irvine has told business leaders.

Mr Irvine's speech is one of the strongest indications yet of the seriousness with which the government is treating the cyber threat.

"Electronic intelligence gathering is now a huge industry," Mr Irvine said. "It is being used against Australia on a massive scale to extract confidential information from governments, the private sector and ordinary individuals."

He hinted that Australia is often targeted by foreign spies as an easy access point into the intelligence holdings of the US and Britain.

Describing the security threat posed by cyber as "pervasive and insidious" he continued: "Worse, our own territory can be used to surreptitiously penetrate the cyber defences of our friends and allies."

Canberra has long been seen as the soft underbelly of the Western intelligence club - the alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the US - and foreign nations are known to target Australia in order to steal our allies' intelligence.

With the rise of cyber espionage, foreign states now target Australia's relatively less protected government systems to access secret material held by the US and Britain.

. . .

Earlier this year it was revealed that foreign spies, likely Chinese, hacked into Parliament House's email system and stole thousands of messages from at least 10 government ministers including the Prime Minister and the ministers for foreign affairs and defence.

Mr Irvine's speech, on July 5, came only days before the US Department of Defence (DoD) released its latest response to the cyber threat, a strategy designed to protect its 7 million computers and other devices.

In doing so, it revealed that "some foreign intelligence organisations have already acquired the capacity to disrupt elements of DoD's information infrastructure".

The US has previously revealed that every year an amount of intellectual property larger than the entire contents of the Library of Congress - some 22 million books - is stolen from US networks run by businesses, universities and government.

There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

Using Australian computer networks as a 'back door' to their US counterparts would make a lot of sense. Australia is tightly tied to the USA in terms of military co-operation (via the ANZUS treaty) and technology (its armed forces use US-sourced ships, aircraft, helicopters and computer equipment), and of course they use computer systems to access operational and maintenance information for them from their manufacturers. Australia also participates in joint military intelligence activities with the USA and its allies, most recently a few weeks ago during Empire Challenge 2011. Any adversary (cough*China*cough) finding it difficult to penetrate better-protected networks in the USA (not that they're necessarily all that well protected here, anyway!) would probably find it an easier task to hack into Australian networks and 'piggyback' on them to get into their US counterparts.

Something else for US counter-intelligence to worry about . . .


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