Address at the opening of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) offices, Canberra

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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22 March 2022

Rachel, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. It’s a very significant day for the Australian Signals Directorate. I’m very pleased to be joined here by my colleague Andrew Hastie, and the Secretary of the Department, Greg Moriarty. To Andrew Shearer, to representatives from the Australian Federal Police, to Ian McCartney. To the many distinguished guests here; friends of the Australian Signals Directorate, Abi thank you very much for your leadership of the ACSC and I’m very pleased indeed after a lot of hard work and a lot of effort by many people in this room and those that work within this facility, to see this come to fruition and I really want to acknowledge all that hard work.

Ladies and gentlemen, we open this facility in the year marking the 75th anniversary of ASD.

During World War Two, Australian civilians and military personnel helped intercept and decode enemy radio signals in support of US forces operating in the South-West Pacific under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur.

After the war, in 1947, the Defence Signals Bureau opened in Albert Park, Melbourne.

Over 75 years, the agency grew. It took different names. Its functions were expanded and made public and it relocated to Canberra.

Despite all this change, ASD’s role has fundamentally remained the same:

To defend Australia from global threats and advance our nation’s interests.

That solemn duty runs through the DNA of ASD.

It has driven more than seven decades of Australians, many of whom we cannot publicly recognise, to achieve great things, much of which we cannot publically disclose.

And it continues to drive them today.

This Government understands the increasing threats Australia faces in the cyber domain.

It’s why we established the Australian Cyber Security Centre within ASD in 2014 – to monitor threats 24/7 and help defend Australia in cyberspace.

Why we made ASD a statutory authority in 2018.

Why we released the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy with a $1.67 billion dollar investment over this decade to help mature the cyber security posture of Australian businesses and organisations.

And why – in response to an increase in cyber-crime targeting Australians and Australian networks – we expanded ASD’s remit to include offensive cyber against foreign cyber criminals.

Today’s initiative – the opening of this world-class facility – will bring together ASD’s intelligence, cyber security, and offensive cyber experts.

As well as members of our Defence Force, Federal Police, Home Affairs, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

All personnel will be under one roof, working together, around the clock – leveraging distinct expertise to create a cyber defence, effects, and intelligence capability which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Because we know that a resilient and robust strategic cyber capability is absolutely crucial for the times in which we live.

Times where technology has created new threats and weapons which are changing the character of warfare.

In an interconnected world where the boundaries between competition and conflict are increasingly blurred, cyber is the new frontline.

It is a vector for a spectrum of activities – from those which fall below the threshold of conflict in the so called ‘grey-zone’, through to those which accompany outright hostilities.

Cyber is an instrument for campaigns of disinformation…

A tool for foreign interference.

A battering ram to breach the doors of our critical infrastructure, systems and networks.

And an insidious disruptive weapon used in conjunction with traditional military capabilities to wage war.

Cyber has become a means to irritate, intimidate and injure another country.

In times of peace, as a precursor to, or first act of conflict and as enduring feature of combat.

Today, I want to discuss the threats we face in the cyber realm.

As I’ve said before, Australians expect their Governments to speak frankly about the challenges which confront our nation and our region.

To not ring-fence them from difficult issues or insult their intelligence.

With conflict raging in Ukraine and tensions mounting in our own region, I want Australians to understand what we’re up against – so we can be better prepared, in mind and in practice.

Ukrainian officials have acknowledged they are fighting a hybrid war – one on the ground and one in the digital realm.

Through cyber-attacks, Russia has targeted and sought to disrupt not only Ukraine’s government, military, and intelligence critical systems, but also networks in the civil sector.

In the lead-up to the invasion, Russia launched cyber-attacks on Ukraine’s banks, denying Ukrainians the ability to use ATMs or transact via their mobile phone apps.

Since that time – and following its invasion – Russia has deployed ‘data-wiping’ software, spread malware, hijacked Ukrainian government websites to spread disinformation, and knocked critical networks offline.

It even took down the websites and emails of Ukraine’s Embassy in London.

The network takedowns have also inhibited NATO’s humanitarian response to assist refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

Cyber-attacks against Ukraine have increased tenfold since Russia’s invasion.

President Putin recognises the utility of cyber-attacks and his intent behind them is clear:

To harass, intimidate, confuse and pressure the people of Ukraine.

To constrain and frustrate Ukraine’s intelligence and military response.

And in conjunction with military might, demoralise the country, break the people’s national resilience, and bring about Ukraine’s surrender.

Amid this chaos, Ukraine has established an ‘IT Army’. It is comprised of Ukrainian cyber operatives, military personnel, citizens and volunteers from around the globe – a group which could number as many as 400,000 hackers.

This group has targeted Russian and Belarusian government agencies, critical infrastructure, supply chains, public services, media outlets, business entities, and banks.

Hackers have defaced thousands of Russian and Belarusian websites and shut down web portals.

Both Russia’s space research institute and space agency have experienced an increase in cyber-attacks from Ukraine.

Hackers are also seeking to disrupt infrastructure used by Russian troops.

For example, after Belarus’ railway network helped transport Russian troops to the frontlines, pro-Ukrainian hackers compromised the online booking system.

Thus, the conflict in Ukraine is testimony to how cyber is changing the nature of warfare – and countries need to prepare for this change.

Cyber war is unbound and unchecked, without clear and well-known cues of escalation.

Patriotic and vigilante hacking groups have mobilised across digital borders, in ways which subvert traditional notions of national sovereignty and test international norms.

Non-state cyber actors are pledging their allegiance to state cyber actors.

They are cooperating, coordinating, and carrying out cyber-attacks together.

At present, at least 15 hacking groups are supporting Russia and 37 supporting Ukraine.

One of the groups aligned with Russia is the cyber-criminal group, Conti.

Conti is behind 13 successful ransomware attacks on Australia, including ones which have targeted our critical infrastructure.

Both Russian authorities and their state-sponsored hackers have sought to attack the systems and networks of other countries for many years.

The most important point to make here to the Australian public is that we are not exempt from this attack. In fact we are a target, as a western democracy, as a nation who stands up for her values, a nation that believes in the international rule of law, we are a huge target in the modern age.

Reprisals we can expect from the Russians and others over the course of the next few years should be acknowledged and recognised and it’s why the work here, within the Australian Signals Directorate, within the Australian Cyber Security Centre remain absolutely paramount.

Last financial year, the Australian Cyber Security Centre received more than 67,000 cyber-crime reports. 

A full 25 per cent of reported cyber incidents were associated with our critical infrastructure or essential services.

Sectors like energy, healthcare, and food supply chains and distribution.

And the time it takes for malicious cyber actors to exploit new vulnerabilities continues to dramatically decrease.

Sometimes they are acting within only a few hours after a weakness has been identified.

The ramifications of a cyber-attack can be considerable.

Disruption or shutdown of vital services.

Loss of revenue or the collapse of businesses.

Injury or loss of life.

Imagine, for a moment, that a state-based actor took a decision to execute a significant and sophisticated attack on a major city power-grid and back-up generators.

There’s no power for a full week until it’s restored.

Homes, hospitals, businesses, government services, petrol stations and supermarkets cannot operate properly.

Apart from economic losses, there would undoubtedly be injuries and deaths from a loss of essential services, pressure on systems, and panic. 

Some may think such a scenario could not be possible – that you would only read about it in a dystopian novel or see it unfold in a disaster movie.

In February last year, hackers gained remote access to the water treatment plant in the small town of Oldsmar in Florida.

An operator noticed someone controlling his mouse cursor, elevating the amount of sodium hydroxide from safe to toxic levels – 11,000 per cent higher than normal.

The operator quickly thwarted the attack before the water’s chemical composition changed, thus preventing the town’s 14,000 residents from being poisoned.

Since 2017, Australia has publicly attributed malicious cyber activities to Russia, North Korea, Iran and China.

In July last year, the Australian Government joined with international partners to call out China’s Ministry of State Security for engaging in repeated cyber activities against foreign government and commercial institutions.

We also expressed concerns about reports of China engaging contract hackers to carry out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft.

We know that within this facility and across the Home Affairs Department, and indeed across government, there will be efforts in the run up to the federal election in trying to prevent online activity or foreign interference otherwise affecting a democratic outcome.

I’ve spoken often about China’s considerable military build-up – the largest of its kind in modern times.

China’s hard power expansion has been matched by the growth of its cyber forces, but it’s not immediately apparent to Australians on a day to day basis, but it has got to a point where our authorities asses that China is now capable of mounting an unprecedented digital onslaught.

Cyber enables malicious state and non-state actors to pursue their malign interests with a veil of deniability.

But it’s a thin veil.

We know who is targeting Australia.

We know what they’re doing.

And we know, in most cases, how they’re doing it.

Where we can, we will continue to make public statements of attribution – where it is in our national interest to do so – especially alongside our allies and partners.

Because in the end, shining all our lights on these pernicious cyber activities can help deter them and also expose the true intent of the perpetrator.

In this age of grey-zone activities, we must also learn to swallow a harder pill:

The cyber espionage and reconnaissance which has been directed at our nation’s critical infrastructure, institutions, and networks can morph into something far more sinister.

Spying is at one end of a spectrum of cyber activities.

At the other end are cyber-attacks of such scale and sophistication they can be nationally, regionally, and globally debilitating.

Australia so far has escaped the worst of this, but make no mistake, Australia is in the crosshairs.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why the Government has and will continue to invest in our nation’s cyber posture with initiatives like the opening of ASD’s Majura Park Facility.

It’s essential in the modern age to deal with the threat that we have in front of us, to invest more into our cyber defences, to make sure that we spread risk, to make sure that we work with close allies, in particular the NSA and GCHQ in London. To make sure that those collaborations, the sharing of intelligence and dissemination of information gives us and our partners the best capacity to deal with the threats in front of us.

My most important message to the Australian public today, is that the work that the Government has undertaken is significant, the money that we are investing is unprecedented, the skill within our workforce and the people who work within the ASD are first class and world leading.

But the job is only partly done. We need to make sure that we continue on this path to strengthen our defences, to make sure that our country remains strong into the future. So whether it is this decade or next or in the years to come, we don’t find ourselves in conflict in our region, we need to be in a position where we can deter, we need to be in a position where we can respond and we need to be ultimately in a position where we can keep the Australian public safe. And that is at the heart of this Government’s approach. The decisions and the announcements that you will see in the upcoming budget and in our investment in this building and in the skill of our people.

I want to close by saying thank you very much Rachel Noble for her leadership within the ASD. There is a lot that goes on within the Australian Signals Directorate that Australians will never hear of. In fact many of them will never have heard of the acronym ASD – and we love acronyms in Canberra – and I preach to a converted audience here today who embraces them very warmly, but the Australian Signals Directorate, the ASD is a name that the Australian public should know. The ACSC is an acronym the Australian public should be aware of because if we want to keep Australians safe online, we must provide the investment, we must provide the leadership and that’s exactly what is happening here at the ASD.

It’s a great pleasure and honour to be here with you today to official declare open these premises. The work that goes on here will literally save lives and save businesses and protect the future of this country. It’s very worthy work and I’m very grateful that you are here today.

Thank you.


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