Australia on alert after cyber attacks

A wave of brazen attacks has turned cyber risk into a barbecue stopper.

Former US cyber chief Chris Krebs said the public was now recognising the online threat after decades of subtle and covert intelligence action.

Ransomware operator REvil, which is believed to be behind the latest large scale attack, has spread to more than 300 businesses in Australia this week after hitting meat processor JBS Foods.

“When we have these brazen acts, it finally brings it home here in the US but also in Australia,” Mr Krebs told a parliamentary hearing on Friday.

“When your hamburgers and hotdogs have been taken off the shelves that makes it really resonate.”

The Russian-linked cyber criminals are demanding a record ransom of $94 million to ‘unlock’ more than 1000 victims here and abroad.

Mr Krebs also warned Australia’s critical infrastructure was at risk from cyber criminals and state actors.

He said Russia, China, Iran and North Korea were taking advantage of information and communications technology used by small and large companies.

Foreign espionage is at its highest ever level, according to ASIO’s most recent threat assessment.

“What we may see are precursor operations that disable infrastructure to prevent the opposing power from being able to project power,” Mr Krebs said.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee is considering tougher cyber laws that could give law enforcement and intelligence agencies greater reach into private firms and make reporting mandatory.

Australian Signals Directorate chief Rachel Noble told a parliamentary hearing last month it helped Nine Entertainment after it was hacked in March.

The company did not pay a ransom, which made it possible to warn other organisations that were being targeted.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre is working with the latest victims.

Cyber security expert Rachel Falk said some companies are switched on to the threat, but those running old, legacy systems are vulnerable, particularly to ransomware.

She said adversaries could sit and wait for a long period of time before flicking the switch.

The threat of sabotage, even without action, was also damaging.

“A threat to, say, the water supply can be equally crippling until it’s found to be without merit,” she said.

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