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Aust hits Islamic State in cyberspace

AAP logoAAP 22/11/2016 Max Blenkin and Roje Adaimy

Australia is conducting online warfare against Islamic State but Australian businesses, government organisations and individuals remain vulnerable to cyber attacks.

In a revelation about Australia's growing cyber capability, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disclosed the Australian Signals Directorate had taken the fight against Islamic State into cyber space.

It was making "a real difference", he told parliament on Wednesday.

But neither Mr Turnbull nor his cyber security minister Dan Tehan would reveal any details of how that was being done.

Delivering a statement on national security, Mr Turnbull said cyber security operations were subject to the same rules of engagement that apply to other military capabilities.

That includes the six RAAF F/A-18 Hornets which have been bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria whose rules are intended to minimse risk of harm to civilians.

Similarly Mr Tehan declined to discuss offensive cyber capabilities - though he said publicly available literature speculated on what could be done.

IS has long been adept at using the internet for its own purposes, using slick video productions to trumpet its successes and persuasive social media pitches to potential western converts.

Cyber attack could take the form of denying IS use of its computer networks, or penetrating their systems to steal information or compromise command and control.

One academic paper terms this type of attack as above espionage but below violence.

Australia certainly isn't going it alone against IS - the US also has a Cyber Command with advanced capabilities for defensive and offensive operations.

Mr Tehan warned of the devastating "cyber storm" in which attacks compromise power, telephone, emergency and financial networks.

Such attacks could be mounted by a foreign power, criminals or kids causing trouble. Cyber terrorism is an emerging threat.

"We are naive if we think that in Australia we are immune to any of these threats," the minister told the National Press Club.

Mr Tehan said everyone needed to do more to guard against the threat.

"All of us must be on notice - it is not a case of if but when government, businesses or individuals will be hit," he said.

Mr Tehan said there were areas where more needed to be done, including working with state and territory governments and businesses to better protect critical infrastructure.

We needed to recognise that links between government departments were where attackers would find vulnerabilities to exploit.

"When the Bureau of Meteorology was compromised it was most likely because it was seen as an entry to other organisations," Mr Tehan said.

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