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Australia’s cyber-war strategy

Dylan Welch, Dan Oakes (SMH) | June 5, 2011
Australia's will create its first national cyber strategy to confront the growing threat posed by electronic espionage, theft and state-sponsored cyber attack, with one of the country's most respected public servants revealing his department endures ''daily'' electronic intrusions.

The announcement of the creation of Australia's first cyber white paper comes as Google revealed it has discovered sophisticated attacks on hundreds of users of its email service, Gmail, aimed at stealing their passwords and monitoring their email.

The Google intrusion was traced back to China and the hundreds of users targeted included officials from the US departments of State and Defence as well as the US Defence Intelligence Agency.

The cyber white paper announcement will be made by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, at a cyber security function in Sydney today.

The policy document, to be released in the first half of next year, will seek to create an overarching strategic response to the myriad cyber threats the country faces in the 21st century.

Drawn up by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the paper will also call for public involvement via a discussion paper to be released next month.

The announcement comes the day after one of Australia's most respected public servants, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dennis Richardson, told a Senate committee his department was the daily target of cyber attacks.

''I doubt whether there would be a 24-hour period in which you wouldn't get something,'' said Mr Richardson, who was also the head of ASIO from 1996-2005.

''They can be anything ranging from skilled kids seeing what they can do, to sophisticated hackers getting a kick out of it, through to attempted espionage,'' he said.

From foreign spies using the web to steal state secrets and vital economic information, through to organised criminals involved in identity theft or ''hactivists'' shutting down or defacing websites for political ends, the growth of the cyber threat is unprecedented.

The white paper will seek to confront the problem by outlining a unified response to the threats posed to government, private industry and the public.

''Cyber is increasingly part of our international relationships with our friends, allies and neighbours across the world, and underpins our broader national interests and indeed our national security,'' Mr McClelland will tell the gathering, according to a copy of the speech provided to the Herald yesterday.

''We have the opportunity to work together with the rest of the world to promote cyberspace as a place of increased prosperity and openness.''

In 2009 the government declared cyber security ''one of Australia's top-tier national security priorities''. The US Defence Department takes the threat so seriously it has designated cyber as the fifth sphere of war - after land, sea, air and space.

While Australia has yet to make that symbolically important move, the Defence Department has previously told the Herald the issue is being ''closely examined''.


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