$10 billion pledge makes Australia’s biggest ever cybersecurity package
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made the headline-grabbing announcement as part of this year’s federal budget. The $10 billion funding will support the REDSPICE program and is expected to see the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) double in size and ramp up its offensive cyber capabilities.
REDSPICE stands for “Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber and Enablers”. The increase in funding is significant and reflects growing concerns of attacks on critical infrastructure from hackers affiliated with foreign states. The figure isn’t quite as high as it may at first appear, with the funding spread over ten years and partly offset by savings elsewhere in the defence budget. But with developments likely to include better data sharing and the increased use of AI and machine learning to detect and respond to threats, it’s still welcome news.
Cybercrime in NZ has doubled in recent months
CERT NZ’s latest report reveals a stark rise in cybercrime. New Zealand’s cybersecurity agency responded to 3,977 reports, with a direct financial loss of $6.6 million, in the last quarter of 2021. Both figures are twice as high as the previous quarter’s. Malware reports, meanwhile, rose almost tenfold.
The report makes clear the scale of the challenge facing businesses, although Director Rob Pope also saw grounds for optimism. “The increase in reports demonstrates that New Zealanders are becoming more aware and better skilled at recognising cybersecurity incidents,” he said. NZTech Chief Executive Graeme Muller, meanwhile, said New Zealanders should focus on getting the basics right. “While the threat of Russian cyberattacks could be a possibility,” he acknowledged, “the reality is most cybersecurity issues faced by Kiwis stem from a lack of understanding of how to operate safely online.” Encouraging a positive, proactive cyber culture is crucial as threats rise.
Telstra to block mobile smishing attacks
Telco giant Telstra has launched new technology to fight the growing threat of “smishing” attacks. Scam text messages will now be automatically identified and blocked, with Telstra’s tech looking out for malicious links or suspicious patterns of behaviour.
In 2021 Telstra had 11,000 reports of smishing attacks on Android devices, up from just 50 in 2020. The technology, which has already been tested internally, will be rolled out to all devices on Telstra’s network, although users can opt out. Smishing attacks soared last year, with millions of users getting scam messages that frequently claimed to be from delivery firms or the government. Optus and Vodaphone also have message filters in place. The action across mobile networks seems to be working, with a 50% decrease in reported phone-based scams reported by ScamWatch. Mobile devices can be a serious vulnerability for users and businesses – encryption, training and device policies can all help manage the risk.
Money recovery scams triple as criminals target victims
The amount stolen by money recovery scams has increased 301% so far this year, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The commission’s Scamwatch program found that $270,000 has been lost across 66 incidents.
Money recovery scams see criminals target the victims of previous scams by impersonating law firms or government agencies. They may say that the victim is due a refund, using spoofed websites and documents to support their claims, then request personal documents, remote access to devices or an up-front payment. The new anti-smishing measures may improve matters, but social engineering attacks are constantly evolving. You can stay on top of official guidelines on Scamwatch’s alerts page, and Services Australia offers a guide to scams impersonating government bodies.
Ukraine claims victory in infrastructure cyber struggle
Ukraine has thwarted a Russian cyberattack on its electricity grid, according to a government spokesperson. “This was a military hacking team,” Victor Zhora said. "Their aim was to disable a number of facilities, including electricity substations. They did not succeed, and we're investigating." Russia has not yet commented on the report.
Cyber operations are an increasing part of global geopolitics. The war in Ukraine has seen groups such as Conti and UNC1151 closely linked to Russia and Belarus, and the Anonymous collective among several groups supporting Ukraine. Kyiv blamed the electricity grid attack, which targeted high-voltage substations in Ukraine, on the powerful Sandworm gang. Such attacks are likely to become increasingly common, and collateral damage is a real risk as groups target vulnerabilities in applications. As the war continues and other threats swirl, a strong security posture is imperative.
Crypto heist steals $800 million from monster-loving gamers
One of the biggest crypto attacks ever saw $800 million stolen from the users of the Axie Infinity game. The March 23 breach hit the game’s Ronin Bridge, which allows users to convert tokens so that they can be used on other networks. The hackers drained 173,600 Ether and 25.5 million USDC tokens.
The Pokémon-inspired Axie Infinity game lets players breed, fight and trade NFT monsters, and has around 10 million players. Parent company Sky Mavis has said it will reimburse all players. The breach raises further concerns about the safety of crypto games. Bridges are a particular vulnerability – their ownership is often unknown and they frequently use unaudited code. The hype around crypto and NFTs should not blind businesses or individuals to the risks they carry: always proceed with caution.