Two of the country’s top spies offered rare insight into the growing threat of cyberattacks and Australia’s defensive and offensive responses.
“All is fair in love, war and espionage,” said Rachel Noble, chief executive of the Australian Directorate of Signals (ASD), when asked if he was being hypocritical for the West of call cyberattacks from other countries, while he wears his own out.
“Of course we spy on other countries,” she said during an appearance at the Lowy Institute. “May the best spy win.
“I think in a democracy we are more transparent about what we are doing.”
ASD, an electronic intelligence agency tasked with collecting intelligence on foreign adversaries, cybersecurity, protecting Australians from cyberwarfare and conducting its own offensive cyber operations, is held accountable through parliamentary processes and committees and through the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Noble said. .
“These are not mechanisms that other countries, which might be communist in nature, have to hold their intelligence apparatus to account.”
Abigail Bradshaw, head of ASD’s Australian Center for Cybersecurity, said cyberattacks were becoming more common, sophisticated and agile.
Bradshaw pointed to recent reports of a China-backed cyber espionage campaign that targeted Australian government agencies by posing as an Australian news site. A group known as TA423/Red Ladon had embedded malware into the site and were using it to hack into Australian entities.
The center had been aware of the campaign since April, she said, and had implemented a cyber shield around risky networks.
“Without telling you how we knew that…one of the virtues of integrating your cybersecurity agency with a foreign intelligence agency is that we have early visibility into campaigns like this,” he said. she stated.
“Given the targeting of government entities, we used our central blocking capability to prevent government networks from accessing this site.”
Since 2018, ASD has had the power to actively disrupt foreign cyberattacks, she said, while declining to reveal details.
Noble said the conflict in Ukraine has crystallized how major cyber attacks have gone from almost “hypothetical” to happening in real life.
And it got “really messy” for ASD and other agencies because big private sector companies and organized cybercriminals joined in and took sides.
“It can be very difficult to discern whether it is a state-based actor, a criminal, a criminal operating under the direction of the state, or simply pulling its own intent of that state actor and then takes offensive action,” she said.
“It’s really messy.”
She said it was inspiring and terrifying to watch her world intelligence counterparts at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where they were predicting President Vladimir Putin’s action in near real time.
Both Noble and Bradshaw said protecting Australia’s cyberspace started with individuals using good “cyber hygiene” – there are details here on how to achieve this.
“A world dominated by men”
Noble, the first woman to head an Australian intelligence agency, said she doesn’t believe there is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace.
“It’s actually a concrete block,” she said.
Noble said today that the concrete block is “coated with advanced camouflage technology.”
‘I couldn’t see it until I was old enough to reach out and touch it,’ she said, in a speech in which she described the ‘micro-humiliations’ she experienced. endured “in a world dominated by men”.
A former code breaker who only recently became a feminist, Noble said she tries not to come across as “strident, or even worse, bitter”, as she has traced through the history of women in intelligence. Australian until today, when women are still unwittingly belittled, called a “witch”, or “bossy”, or “creepy”.
And she called on men to have equal access to parental leave.
“As long as the woman has more, the family economy of who takes that leave becomes quite simple,” she said.
“But just as important, we have to work to change our…values and expectations to allow him to take it.”
Missing work after having children contributes to the 13.8% gender pay gap and to “a whopping 24.4% pay gap in professional, scientific and technical services” , noted Noble, citing women including pop star Madonna, ABC writer and commentator Annabel Crabb and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She said nearly half of ASD’s leaders are women. The agency has its regular morning meeting at 9:30 a.m., to allow for back-to-school times, and they don’t schedule meetings outside office hours, except for emergencies.
Noble ended with a quote from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein:
“I don’t want women to have power over men; but on themselves.