Australian Government sets up election cyber security task-force

Published on the 15/06/2018 | Written by Pat Pilcher

Australia cyber security taskforce

The Australian government launches the Electoral Integrity Task Force to fend off cyber-attacks interfering with elections and democratic process...

The move came out of fears around the vulnerability of Australia’s electoral and democratic processes to digital interference. Canberra cited China as a key concern.

The new unit is has been named the Electoral Integrity Task Force.

Australia is wary of digital interference to its democratic processes with good reason.

In 2016, a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) targeted the Australian Census. In a bid to smooth out growing alarm, the then Small Business Minister, Michael McCormack said: “This was not an attack, nor was it a hack. It was an attempt to frustrate the collection of data.”

Controversy mounted as the Australian Bureau of Statistics said four cyber-attacks took place.

There is ample evidence that democracies are seen as soft targets for cyber-attacks. Several cases in the US provide ample examples ranging from maladministration to poor cyber security practices.

“There is ample evidence that democracies are seen as soft targets for cyber-attacks.”

In 2015, The FBI contacted the US Democratic National Committee’s help desk. They warned that one of the DNC’s computers was hacked. A DNC technician scanned the PC and failed to detect anything.

Several months later, the FBI again contacted the DNC. This time to warn them that one of their computers was transmitting data to a Russian IP address. It later turned out that DNC technicians had not passed on the FBI’s warning so it wasn’t acted on.

12 months later, the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta received a phishing email.

It was a bogus Google alert informing Podesta that hackers had tried to access his email account and contained a link to allow Podesta to “change his email credentials”.

Somewhat dubious, Podesta shared the email with the campaign’s IT help desk staff.

In what looks to be a predictive text error, the helpdesk replied by saying that “this is a legitimate email”. What they’d meant it to say was “this is an illegitimate email”.

Podesta then followed the email instructions, entering new credentials. Investigators concluded that hackers probably gained access to his email.

As an indirect result of the rhetoric surrounding the move, ties between Australia and China have soured over the accusations coming out of Canberra. So far, no word has emerged out of Canberra on how this could affect trade.

Concerns are however being raised over the long-term implications for Australian businesses engaging with the Australian government in an election year. IDC analyst Celine Pozzo says businesses servicing the government could find themselves faced with tougher security requirements and growing compliance costs, even if it should be as a governmental responsibility.

“The possible requirement difficulties would depend on the scope of the election’s security level being raised up… on a security level, the government should be the only one responsible for its own accreditations.”

How effective the task force will be, and if other countries will follow Australia’s lead remains to be seen. Either way, its first real test is looming as Australia kicks off 5 federal by-elections next month.

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