The Australian Signals Directorate’s cyber capabilities are supporting offensive operations against Islamic State (also known as Daesh), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament today during a national security statement.
In addition to Australian air strikes supporting offensive operations against IS, the “fight against Daesh is also conducted through cyber space,” Turnbull said.
During the launch of the government’s national cyber security strategy in April, Turnbull acknowledged that Australia possesses an “offensive cyber capability” housed within the ASD.
Those capabilities “provide us with the capacity to deter and respond to cyber attacks against Australia,” Turnbull said today. “Those same capabilities also have important military applications, including and support of Coalition operations against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.”
Earlier this year the ASD began a recruitment campaign to boost its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.
The agency has sought to recruit offensive cyber operators, penetration testers, software developers, vulnerability researchers, and network and system admins.
“While I won’t, for obvious reasons, go into the details of those operations, I can say that they are being used, that they are making a real difference in the military conflict and that all offensive cyber activities in support of the [Australian Defence Force] and our allies are subject to the same rules of engagement which govern the use of our other military capabilities in Iraq and Syria, such as our F-18 Hornets,” Turnbull said today.
“The Australian Signals Directorate support for these operations is subject to stringent legal oversight and is consistent with our support for the international rules based order and our obligations under international law.”
In his reply opposition leader Bill Shorten said that “combating terrorism, defeating extremism means meeting Daesh on every front whether it is providing air support and training in Iraq or disrupting cyber operations, not just defensively but offensively.”
“Ensuring we have and use the ability to silence the dreadful extremist propaganda and deprive them of resources and information,” the Labor leader said. “It is equally important to protect Australia's government and non-government agencies and institutions from digital attacks.”
“In the past year alone, we have seen Austrade, the Bureau of Meteorology and Department of Defence targeted,” Shorten said.
“We have seen large scale attacks carried out around the world, perhaps most notably in the US. Increased connectivity with the world through the internet, for our businesses and communities is outstanding. It is one of the defining forces of our modern society and economy.”
“We cannot afford to assume cyber security is a niche issue for ‘techsperts’, the harmless hobby of the dedicated followers,” Shorten said.
The Labor leader said that frameworks and treaties “written for a Cold War world” need to be updated “for an age where people can Google bomb-making instructions and 3D print guns.”
“It is vital we continue to enhance the reach and flexibility of our cyber security capabilities,” Shorten said.