Hacking could trigger ‘national emergency’

Cyber attacks on Australia’s critical infrastructure could soon trigger a national emergency declaration, empowering security agencies to launch counter assaults.

The federal government is seeking greater powers to protect private sector assets such as electricity grids, communication lines and big banks from hacking attacks.

The Department of Home Affairs has released a discussion paper on declaring an emergency during an immediate and serious cyber threat to Australia’s economy, security or sovereignty.

“In an emergency, we see a role for government to use its enhanced threat picture and unique capabilities to take direct action to protect a critical infrastructure entity or system in the national interest,” the paper says.

“The primary purpose of these powers would be to allow government to assist entities take technical action to defend and protect their networks and systems, and provide advice on mitigating damage, restoring services and remediation.”

The department says the emergency powers would primarily be discharged on a voluntary basis.

“However, there may be cases where entities are unwilling to work with government to restore systems in a timely manner,” the paper says.

“Government needs to have a clear and unambiguous legal basis on which to act in the national interest and maintain continuity of any dependent essential services.”

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