ASIO: Australia the target of cyber security attacks

Annual report notes emergence of high-technology espionage techniques; $71 million funding injection for IT and infrastructure

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has confirmed that Internet-based attacks have been used by hostile intelligence services to gain confidential Australian Government and business information.

The admission, in ASIO’s annual report to June 30, 2009, said that during the year, the threat of hostile intelligence services exploiting Australian information systems was brought into sharper focus, with “traditional espionage methods supplemented by new high-technology techniques”.

“ASIO found further evidence of hostile intelligence services using the Internet as a means of appropriating confidential Australian Government and business information,” the annual report reads. “State-sponsored efforts to procure materiel and knowledge for weapons programs – including weapons of mass destruction – continued in 2008–09.”

In his forward to the annual report, the internal security agency’s Director-General David Irvine, wrote that while today’s increasingly interconnected world had great benefits, it also provided new opportunities for state and non-state actors to advantage themselves at Australia’s expense.

“Espionage and foreign interference, for example, threaten not only the integrity of our national institutions but also our economic competitiveness and community cohesion,” he wrote. “Like terrorism, espionage and foreign interference is enabled by technology and the free flow of people, goods and ideas across borders.”

Irvine wrote that, similar to the increased state and federal agency co-operation on counter-terrorism operations, similar co-operative responses were emerging to deal with electronic espionage.

“Whereas our focus was once on nation states and their human agents, the threat is now more varied and today’s response requires high-technology to be joined with traditional tradecraft,” he wrote. “ASIO’s counter-espionage expertise is being combined with specialist capability residing in other national security community agencies. Jointly we are working against this increasing threat to the integrity of Australian Government and commercial information systems.”

The annual report also noted that ASIO contributed to the Australian Government’s 2008 Review of E-Security, working with DSD and the AFP to produce a wide-ranging classified assessment of the electronic threat environment.

Funding to ASIO continued to rise in 2008–09 with money from Government increasing $62m to $353m, up from $291m in 2007–08 and $227m in 2006–07. The growth continues in 2009–10 with revenue from Government increasing $56m (16 per cent) to $409m, the report reads.

“This reflects the final stage of growth in staff and depreciation expense flowing from previous equity injections arising from the Review of ASIO Resourcing (the Taylor Review) in 2005,” the report reads.

ASIO also received an equity injection of $71m in 2008–09 to cover investment in ASIO’s information technology infrastructure and the state and territory offices network, and the commencement of ASIO’s new central office building.

The organisation also received a 2007–08 injection of $159m and 2006–07 injection of $113m.

ASIO’s net staffing also increased by 13 percent to 1,690 during 2009-2009 with the agency reporting that it is on track to achieving staffing levels of approximately 1800 by 2010–11.

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