Home Hacking The Australian Signals Directorate offers a ‘licence to hack’ | The Canberra Times

The Australian Signals Directorate offers a ‘licence to hack’ | The Canberra Times

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There was a time when spies needed only a dry martini (“shaken not stirred”), an Aston Martin and a Walther PPK pistol. But times have changed since Agent 007 acquired his skills. James Bond’s “licence to kill” has become a “licence to hack”, as the country’s spy agency puts it. The government is to spend $1.35 billion to create 500 new jobs at the Australian Signals Directorate whose motto is “Reveal their secrets, Protect our own”. The money will boost the capabilities of the Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre. The ASD is already recruiting “Cyber Specialists – Defensive and Offensive Technologists”, and it spells the tasks out in the job advert: And the required skills of the “ideal candidate” are: “To achieve our mission, we want people with strong integrity, agility, curiosity, imagination, resilience and creativity. These abilities are needed to out-think and out-imagine some of the most testing adversaries and problems imaginable.” They are extremely clever people, either with criminal or political motives. A cyber-attack happens when an outside agency or person gets access to a computer system they would normally be barred from. It can either be to disable the system – to make it crash – or it can be to get access to information – passwords, emails, plans or any other private information. Sometimes, it’s to to hold the targeted institution to ransom. Over the weekend, criminals managed to get into the computer system of the University of California in San Francisco and extort $1.6 million under threat of releasing the private data it had snatched. The university paid up. But the Australian government is more worried about attacks by a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor”. “Sophisticated state-based cyber actors” are governments or agencies acting for governments. They aren’t necessarily the foreign counterparts of the ASD, according to Tom Uren, an analyst specialising in cybersecurity at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He monitors the people accused in American courts of cyber attacking. Some are officers in China’s People’s Liberation Army but others are from outside agencies and contractors. China is not the only adversary which might be targeting Australia. In the past, North Korea, Russia and Iran have been shown as active cyber-attackers of Western governments and companies. In 2016, for example, North Korea managed to steal more than a hundred million dollars from the central bank of Bangladesh in a “cyber heist”. It also targets South Korea. Money or politics on the Korean peninsula usually drive its attacks. Russia is known to target the United States and the European Union but its motives are usually disruptive, to cause division and weaken NATO and western alliances. Iran is pre-occupied with Israel – and Australia seems far from its immediate concerns. The People’s Republic of China – probably. Mr Morrison is not naming the name. He said only that a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor” was “targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.” The cyber attacks were “ongoing” and were getting bigger and more frequent. That points to China, according to Mr Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He says that it has the capability to do big and sustained attacks. He also thinks it’s significant that the government has brought its concerns out in public, accompanied by strong hints that it is China. In the past, China and the United States and China and Australia have held secret talks about ceasing cyber attacks. “There’s no other state which we’ve tried to engage and dissuade,” Mr Uren said. There’s disagreement on this. One view is that Australia has displeased China – which it has – by seeming to support President Trump’s finger-pointing over the source of COVID-19 (or “Kung Flu”, as he called it). On this argument, China is “rattling Australia’s cage” – making trouble to indicate it could make a lot more if Australia continues being difficult. This may be true but Mr Uren doubts it. He told this paper that the point of sending a signal is that everybody sees it but a secret attack doesn’t meet that criterion. Warning that Chinese students might not attend Australian universities was much more effective. Mr Uren thinks the more likely motive is simply the stealing of economically useful information like patents, research results and trade secrets. “If you have masses of people unemployed, that’s bad for internal security,” the analyst said. Patents and research results (for example, for a vaccine against the coronavirus) would advance China’s economic development. READ MORE: Very clever tech-savvy people. It would be wrong to say “nerds”. The ASD lists some of the specialisations: “cyber security; digital forensics; research and development on emerging technologies; systems and software design.” Sometimes the best detectors of hacks are those who have themselves hacked into systems. On offer: a hacker’s licence to hack.

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