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Australia to invest in cyber security amid state-backed attacks

Australia has announced it will make its largest ever investment in cyber security following widespread attacks against government bodies, industry, political parties, and operators of critical infrastructure.

Over the next decade, A$1.35bn (£750m) will be invested in enhancing the country’s cyber-security capabilities, in an effort to identify cyber threats and disrupt foreign attackers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said malicious cyber activity against Australia is increasing in frequency, scale and sophistication.

“The Federal Government’s top priority is protecting our nation’s economy, national security and sovereignty. Malicious cyber activity undermines that,” he said. “My Government’s record investment in our nation’s cyber security will help ensure we have the tools and capabilities we need to fight back and keep Australians safe.”

The package will include A$470m to hire an extra 500 cyber security experts in the Australian Signals Directorate, which intercepts electronic communications from foreign countries.

Recent attacks are state-backed, Morrison alleged at the time, noting that there were attempts to compromise critical infrastructure. He declined to publicly accuse a country, as the threshold of evidence to do so would be “extremely high”. There are a small number of states not allied to Australia with the capacity and precedent for these cyber-attacks, e.g. China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, although cyber-security experts have consistently attributed attacks in Australia to China.

The newly announced funding is part of a A$15bn investment in cyber warfare capabilities that will form part of the country’s 2020 defence plan, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.

“The package will put our nation on the front foot in combatting cyber threats and our investment in a cyber security workforce will help ensure we have the people we need to meet future cyber challenges,” she said. “For example, 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.”

A report last week found that one in six firms met the demands of hackers in 2019 by paying out ransoms, with UK companies worst hit by such attacks. 

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