Nine’s cyber attacker was poised to hit two other organisations

Nine’s cyber attacker was poised to hit two other organisations

Australia’s cyber troops have not hit back at the criminal group responsible for the cyber attack on the Nine Network but they were able to warn two other entities they were about to become victims of a similar onslaught.

Labor’s Tim Watts wants the government and Australian cyber security services to go after ransomware crews, likening them to modern-day pirates.

Australian Signals Directorate head Rachel Noble says it plays a vital role in warning organisations at risk of being hit with a cyber attack.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The opposition has called for a national ransomware strategy that would include mandatory reporting when victims pay ransoms.

Australian Signals Directorate head Rachel Noble said it did have the ability to launch offensive cyber operations against criminals offshore.

But asked whether it took offensive cyber operations against the group responsible for the March attack on the Nine Network, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Ms Noble said it had not.

“The technical information that they were able to provide us about what happened on their network helped us using our more classified capabilities to warn two other entities that they were about to be victims as well, to prevent them from becoming victims,” she told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

“It really is our role to try and help take this information in and lift our national cyber defences by having a better whitelisting national picture and that’s the value add, I guess, that we bring to the table.”

Abigail Bradshaw, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre with the ASD said the organisation had played a similar role several times over the past 12 months.

She saw that as a “much more useful” role than offensive cyber operations.

Mr Watts says taking down groups behind cyber attacks shows there’s a price to pay for targeting Australian organisations.

Labor’s assistant spokesman for communications and cybersecurity Tim Watts likened ransomware crews to pirates.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Ransomware crews are like modern-day privateers, exploiting the legal impunity provided by their host countries to menace and extort innocent organisations around the world,” he said.

“If the countries that host these pirates won’t force them to face justice through the legal system, we should use all the tools available to us in the cyber domain to hunt down and destroy these criminal groups.”

There has been a string of other recent high-profile attacks in Australia, including on the NSW Labor Party and several Queensland hospitals.

This week, meat production in Australia and North America at the world’s largest abattoir company, JBS, has been interrupted after a ransomware attack, which the company says originated in Russia.

Ms Noble said JBS had a private incident responder but again, ASD had been involved in looking at the technical information about the attack and sharing that on its networks to warn other organisations at risk.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and his officials had a briefing from American law enforcement on Wednesday afternoon about the JBS attack.

“This is just a criminal act and obviously we’re working through that to get an understanding of the extent and who’s perpetrated it and then obviously we’ll work with our international partners to hunt them down and to bring them to account,” he told radio 3AW ahead of that meeting.

Mr Watts said it was bad news for barbecues but even worse news for the 11,000 JBS workers in Australia, with thousands stood aside as the company worked to get its systems back online.

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