Cyber attacks top Aussie list of international concerns

Australians consider cyber attacks from foreign countries as the most pressing international concern after a series of high-profile data breaches during the past nine months.

About seven in 10 people identified the issue as a “critical threat” to the nation in the next decade, according to research from the Lowy Institute’s 2023 poll which surveys Australians’ attitudes on international affairs.

UNSW Institute for Cyber Security deputy director Rob Nicholls attributes the sudden interest in cyber attacks to three major cases within the past six months – Optus, Medibank and Latitude Financial.

“Suddenly, cyber security is actually something which affects the majority of adult Australians,” Dr Nicholls told AAP.

The attacks on the three companies resulted in more than 28 million personal accounts accessed by hackers and data stolen.

The cyber security expert said attacks on critical infrastructure, which have generally arisen from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, have put the issue on the radar for people.

“These breaches have individuals thinking they seem to be happening all over the place and they weren’t happening before,” he said.

Governments and businesses have scrambled to fortify themselves and their security systems with Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil establishing a national cyber office and pledging in February to rewrite Australia’s security laws.

The threat will change from something businesses and governments sort of need to deal with to becoming more front of mind, Dr Nicholls said, with the issue of cybersecurity being discussed in the top 20 ASX listed companies’ boardrooms more than any other topic.

But he believes the problem will get worse before it gets better as it becomes easier for bad actors to get involved in malicious activity.

“It’s sort of a ‘whack-a-mole’ type situation that we know where we are now but both the defensive countermeasures … and the attacks themselves are changing quite quickly,” Dr Nicholls said.

He is heartened by the fact the issue was brought up at all, saying it provides grounds for optimism that individuals at home will do something about cybersecurity and expect their employers to do more.

The result pipped out concerns over the threat of a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan and comes as perceptions of other threats, including COVID-19 and Russian and Chinese foreign policies, have receded.


William Ton
(Australian Associated Press)


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