Australia has registered its concern about the increase in attacks at the United Nations and is assisting other countries in the region to strengthen their cyber resilience.
Australia’s ambassador for cyber affairs Tobias Feakin said the government was particularly concerned by reports that malicious cyber actors were seeking to damage or impair the operation of hospitals, medical services and and crisis response organisations outside of Australia.
“Countries have agreed at the United Nations that existing international law applies in cyberspace. Countries have also agreed that it is contrary to norms of responsible state behaviour to use cyber tools to intentionally damage or impair critical infrastructure providing services to the public,” Dr Feakin said.
“Countries have also agreed to cooperate to address cybercrime and not to knowingly allow their territory to be used for internationally wrongful acts.”
“The Australian government calls on all countries to cease immediately any cyber activity – or support for such activity – inconsistent with these commitments. We also urge all countries to exercise increased vigilance and take all reasonable measures to ensure malicious cyber activity is not emanating from their territory.”
Fergus Hanson, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, said working-from-home arrangements had provided additional access points to a network for hackers.
Mr Hanson said hospitals were a target because they were an essential service and be more likely to pay a ransom if their network was taken over by a cyber attacker.
He said state actors were also involved in sophisticated disinformation campaigns online, warning China was the biggest offender during the global pandemic.
“There’s been quite a few state actors involved in campaigns, and there have been recent takedowns by Facebook covering quite a few countries all the way from Mynamar and Iran to Mauritania. But the big obvious one that has been engaging here in the disinformation space is China, and cyber criminals have also been a big factor taking advantage of working-from-home environments.”
Phishing emails and SMS messages embedded with malicious links or documents can give hackers control of a computer, phone or network when opened, allowing them to spy on Australians or encrypt their device and hold it for ransom.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.