By Ritesh Chugh, CQUniversity’s information systems expert
As I write this, Australia is under a cyber attack and the enormity of it can be assessed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeing the need to urgently call a press conference. While we know that Australia (and other nations) are subject to cyber-attacks regularly, it is concerning that this large-scale attack is “targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of Government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.”
The PM also said a sophisticated, state-based cyber actor is involved because of the scale and nature of the targeting and the tradecraft used. Hence, this could also be seen as an act of cyber warfare.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre attributes the attack to ‘Copy-paste compromises’, in which a malicious actor exploits public-facing infrastructure to target networks and looks for vulnerabilities. Furthermore, the state-based cyber actor utilised spear phishing in which malicious emails are sent to specific targets.
For the general public, the advice is to be extra vigilant, check every email-transmitted file you open even if it appears to be coming from a trusted source and update to the latest version of protection software that blocks viruses, ransomware, spyware, key stroke loggers and so forth.
For organisations, the advice is to patch their Internet-facing infrastructure, update operating systems, secure hardware by changing passwords, back up all data, and use multi-factor authentication. It also is important that organisations (whether they have been attacked or not) communicate with their staff to apprise them of the situation and the defences they have in place to mitigate such cyber attacks.
Such malicious cyber activity not only has an impact on our national security but portrays Australia in a weak light globally. The impact of this cyber-attack on organisations and the general public will only become clearer in the upcoming days.
Finally, as such cyber-attacks are increasing in frequency, it is critical the Australian Government takes a robust approach towards its cyber defence. Cyber attacks should not become political weapons.