ASIO slams cyberterror 'hype'

A senior-ranking officer of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has strongly discounted the threat level of a cyberterrorism attack on Australia in a speech delivered to the annual Security in Government conference in Canberra.

The officer, whose name cannot legally be published or broadcast by the media, told an audience of police, intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives and government IT security managers that while cyberterrorism had received plenty of publicity from vendors and media, it had yet to physically materialise as a reality.

“Cyberterror has been hyped-up – overstated," the officer declared with a deadpan earnestness.

"The casualty list is relatively bare. The definition of terrorism that ASIO [is bound to use is that as listed] in the Commonwealth Protective Security Manual (PSM): acts [by persons, groups of persons or organisations] involving actual or threatened use of violence against persons or property,” he continued.

The officer went on to say that such a definition specifically excludes a wide range of hacking and criminal activity commonly construed as cyberterrorism.

“Spam, worms, DoS attacks and defacements are not cyberterrorism… often [acts of cyberterrorism] are more imagined than real.

“ASIO’s job is to assess national security threats to [national and critical] information infrastructure…ASIO assesses the capability of those that may want to conduct an attack,” the officer said.

The officer also strongly questioned the ROI of cyberterrorism, and its short shelf-life, over proven if more rudimentary terror tactics - such as conventional bombs:

“While computer network attacks (CNAs) are cheap, they are not necessarily cost effective. Network targets are highly dynamic. Whereas a bomb will always explode, an attack on a network will probably not work [after a short period of time].

“Cyberterrorism places enormous restrictions on terrorist targets... [but] there are hackers and hacking groups that are sympathetic to the views of Al Qa’eda," the ASIO officer said.

The officer refused to answer audience questions on how ASIO or the Australian government rated the threat of computer network attacks generated by foreign governments.

Earlier, ASIO director general Dennis Richardson warned strongly that he would not tolerate his organisation’s focus or function being dictated or manipulated by those seeking to achieve outcomes not directly related to the interests of national security, be they political or commercial.

Richardson urged anyone with any evidence of such activity to report it to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Bill Blick.

A private IT security firm contracted to undertake penetration testing was also blasted during the session by members of the Defence Signals Directorate. DSD said that it was forced to issue a security advisory as a result of the firm having spoofed an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey for the purposes of demanding user names and passwords.

“It’s most certainly not something we condone nor encourage,” said a very clearly unimpressed DSD member – “It did prove one thing… nobody fell for it,” the DSD speaker said.

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Julian Bajkowski

Computerworld
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