Scott Morrison targets cybercrime with $748m in new initiatives and expanded security workforce

Australian security and counter-terrorism

Resources reallocated from defence portfolio are planned to rise to £1.35bn over a decade with 500 new jobs created




Scott Morrison says the government will spend £470m to expand Australia’s cyber security workforce, creating more than 500 new jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate.Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Scott Morrison will unveil £748m in new cyber security initiatives, with the planned reallocation of resources from within the defence portfolio rising to £1.35bn over a decade once the government unveils a new cyber security strategy in coming months. Continuing the government’s more assertive public posture against malicious interference, Morrison will commit on Tuesday to spending £470m to expand Australia’s cyber security workforce, creating more than 500 new jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate. ASD will also be given £118m to expand its data science and intelligence capabilities, and more than £62m to deliver a national situational awareness capability so the agency can, according to the government, “better understand and respond to cyber threats on a national scale”.

The package will allocate £20m for enhanced research laboratory capability, and a further £35m for a cyber threat-sharing platform to help the government to work collaboratively with industry to identify and disrupt threats quickly. Another £31m will boost the capacity of ASD to disrupt offshore cybercrime, and support work by law enforcement agencies. Another £12m will help ASD work with telecommunications companies to stop malicious incursions.

Morrison, ahead of a significant defence speech anticipated this week, will flag additional investments over the coming months taking the total spend north of £1bn. The funding is a reallocation of resources from within the defence pool. Tuesday’s commitment follows Morrison pointing on June 19 to a cyber-attack on a wide range of political and private-sector organisations in Australia carried out by a “sophisticated state-based cyber-actor”.

The prime minister held a press conference to disclose the operation, flanked by the defence minister Linda Reynolds, who told reporters malicious cyber-activity was “increasing in frequency, scale, in sophistication and in its impact”. Morrison gave very few details about the operation he was highlighting. But he said Australia knew it was a sophisticated state-based cyber-actor “because of the scale and nature of the targeting and the tradecraft used.

The Australian government is aware of and alert to the threat of cyber-attacks.” Peter Jennings, head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former senior defence official, said shortly after the press conference he believed the government was raising the matter publicly without openly naming the chief suspect – China – in an attempt to send a public signal to Beijing to moderate its behaviour after recent diplomatic tensions. “I think what’s going on here is we’re attempting to apply a little bit of pressure back to China after they have been pressuring us,” Jennings said. “But there is also a point in the Morrison approach which says to China, ‘Look, we won’t name you.’ Maybe the view is ‘if you started playing a little nicer with us, we won’t do that’.”

China issued a denial through its foreign ministry that it launched the attack. Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne, in the middle of June, also delivered a forthright speech in which she characterised the Chinese government’s recent warnings to students and travellers about the risk of racist attacks in Australia as “disinformation”. The Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian later accused Australian officials of undermining international efforts to combat the virus.

In the latest sign of the deteriorating relationship, Chinese state media on Sunday evening accused Australia of waging “an intensifying espionage operation against China” and signalled that Beijing would now “take more vigorous countermeasures” against Australian spying. The Global Times cited an unnamed source from “a Chinese law-enforcement agency” as saying Australia had sent agents to China to spy and recruit assets – and that China had arrested alleged Australian spies in 2018. When asked about the claims on Monday, Morrison said only that reporters should not rely on allegations made by Chinese state media.

Morrison said the new package, known as the Cyber Enhanced Situational Awareness and Response (CESAR), would allow Australia to identify more cyber threats, disrupt more foreign cybercriminals, build more partnerships with industry and government and protect more Australians.

“Record investment in our nation’s cyber security will help ensure we have the tools and capabilities we need to fight back and keep Australians safe,” he said.

Reynolds said the package would “put our nation on the front foot in combatting cyber threats and our investment in a cyber security workforce will help ensure we have the people we need to meet future cyber challenges”.

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