Anonymous 2009 attack highlighted security risks: ASIO

Top spy agency highlights the risks of cyber terrorism, espionage and secuity in its annual report

Anonymous’ distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on the website of the Australian Prime Minister late last year highlighted potential risks to Australia’s national security, according to the nation’s top spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

“The September 2009 Distributed Denial of Service attacks launched against government websites by an issue motivated group, 'Anonymous', demonstrated potential vulnerabilities of government websites that can be exploited to hamper government service delivery,” the agency stated in its 2009-10 annual report.

As reported by Computerworld Australia, the attack followed a ‘Declaration of War’ against the Australian government by Anonymous as a reprisal for its role in attempting to establish a mandatory ISP-level filter.

Detailing its work around cyber security, cyber espionage and cyber terrorism, ASIO director general, David Irvine, stated that technology and the forces of globalisation were the two principal drivers of its business modernisation.

“Countering terrorism is not ASIO's only continuing focus,” the report reads. “ASIO must also be highly capable within the cyber domain, working in close cooperation with the Defence Signals Directorate and the Attorney-General’s Department.

“Cyber espionage is an emerging issue, requiring considerable attention across Government to address both the criminal and public protection aspects, as well as counter-espionage and other defence elements.”

Irvine said the speed and scale of technological development presented significant challenges for organisations such as ASIO, demanding an increasing focus across all levels of government on both the technological and the legal bases of the telecommunications interception regime.

In response to these challenges, in 2010–11, ASIO would conduct a pilot study for the establishment of a National Interception Technical Assistance Centre, which would ultimately provide a central point for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to receive technical assistance to help keep pace with technological change in the digital age, Irvine said.

“For terrorists, the Internet is a well-established and essential tool, providing not only a platform to support operations, but a means by which terrorist and other groups can amplify their messages to a global audience,” the report reads.

“Most recently, al-Qa'ida and its affiliates have been using the Internet to mainstream their message and reach out directly to English speaking Muslims in western countries.”

Espionage had also thrived on globalisation and the communications revolution, Irvine said.

“Digitisation means that massive amounts of information can be extracted, transferred and shuffled with ease,” the report reads.

“A single well-placed human agent becomes the potential source of archives worth of intelligence. Hostile intelligence agencies now also have a ‘beyond-the-horizon’ capability; they need not leave their own shores to target information held on our government, business and even personal computers.”

The annual report also noted that ASIO received an equity injection of $16 million for 2009–10, to fund additional capability ($14m), telecommunications interception capabilities ($2m) and for ASIO's new headquarters ($589m).

The agency in its 2008-09 report confirmed that internet-based attacks have been used by hostile intelligence services to gain confidential Australian Government and business information.

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