Go offensive! Australia military gets cyberwarfare unit to battle overseas hackers

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The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is getting a cyberwarfare unit for defending the country from cyber threat, as well as conducting offensive military cyber operations to shut down foreign criminal networks overseas.

“As of tomorrow, Australia will have an information warfare division within Defence. This is a result of the changing character of contemporary conflict,” Cyber Security Minister Dan Tehan said on Friday. 

Defence Signals Directorate, an intelligence agency in the Australian Government Department of Defence, will be given special powers to target civilians overseas.

The division will be responsible for “military cyber operations, intelligence, joint electronic warfare, information operations and our military’s space operations,” according to Tehan.

“It will integrate existing operations from across our defense forces to protect and support our ADF deployed personnel and systems. The division is authorized to conduct self-defense, passive defense, active defense and offensive operations,” Tehan said.

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“Our new cyber capabilities will ensure offshore attacks are kept at bay, and will keep Australians safe,” he added.
Earlier in June, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the country’s response to cyber threat shouldn’t be just defensive.

“We must take the fight to the criminals,” he said. “The use of offensive cyber capabilities will add to the government’s crime-fighting arsenal and form part of our broader strategy to prevent and shut down safe havens for offshore cyber criminals.” 

READ MORE: ‘Petya’ reaches Australia, Cadbury plant freezes production

 According to the website of the Australian prime minister, cybercrime costs the country’s economy around AUS$1 billion ($767 million) a year. Since the end of 2014, the Australian authorities registered 114,000 reports of cybercrime. At least 23,700 of them were reported over the last 6 months.

“The use of this capability, which is currently used to help target, disrupt and defeat terrorist organizations such as Daesh [Islamic State], is subject to stringent legal oversight and consistent with our obligations under international law,” the statement also said. 

Australia, as well as other countries across the globe, has been recently hit by the ‘Petya’ ransomware attack. The attack spread to corporate systems across the world, affecting, among others, Russian state oil giant Rosneft, international shipping and energy conglomerate Maersk, and UK-based advertising and public relations company WPP.

The ransomware is similar in impact to “WannaCry” by the hacker group ShadowBrokers. That attack shut down over 200,000 computers in 150 countries in May.