Government unveils $230m cybersecurity strategy to combat overseas hackers

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared war on cyber invasion, confirming the government could launch offensive attacks to deter foreign online espionage.

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He did so in unveiling Australia’s $230 million cybersecurity strategy, which focuses on closer collaboration with business.

The move comes as the government confirmed reports the Bureau of Meteorology and Department of Parliamentary Services have been targets of malicious cyberattacks in recent years.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters on the NSW South Coast the BOM attack was under investigation.

Mr Turnbull said an offensive cyber capability provided an option for the government to respond, but would be subject to “stringent” legal oversight.

“Some intrusions are the work of foreign adversaries, others involve malicious software,” he said at the strategy launch in Sydney on Thursday.

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“The scale and rate of compromise is increasing.”

The government would work with other nations to shut down safe havens for criminal and terrorist organisations.

Unexplained cyberattacks could escalate into war between countries, Mr Turnbull said.

The Australian Crime Commission estimated the cost to the economy of cybercrime was about $1 billion each year, while other assessments put it closer to $17 billion.

Many people would have no idea they’d been targeted by cyber criminals.

“Now as your prime minister, my highest duty and that of my government is to keep Australians safe,” Mr Turnbull said.

“It is no different in cyberspace.”

The strategy’s centrepiece involves sharing threat information between business and government, using the existing Australian Cyber Security Centre and new portals in capital cities.

The centre will be relocated from Australia’s spy building in Canberra to a more accessible venue.

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The prime minister will convene annual meetings with business leaders.

The strategy, the first since 2009, took 18 months to develop and will create about 100 jobs – most of which will be highly specialised.

Mr Turnbull announced the new role of cyber ambassador and will appoint a minister assisting him on cybersecurity.

The strategy sits alongside $400 million outlined in the Defence blueprint for cyber activities.

While agencies don’t believe there’s yet been a serious cyberattack – which is defined as compromising national security – there are thousands of intrusions every year.

They range from theft of intellectual property to illegally modifying data to seeking ransom to unlock a computer affected by malicious software.

“We must safeguard against criminality, espionage, sabotage and unfair competition online,” Mr Turnbull said.

About $190 million allocated to the strategy was new money, with the remaining funds coming from the Innovation and Science Agenda.

It included an education program to raise awareness of cyber intrusions.