NEIL MITCHELL: On the line is Andrew Hastie. He’s the Assistant Minister for Defence and has responsibility for cyber security under the Defence portfolio. Andrew Hastie, good morning.
THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning to you, Neil. Great to be with you.
MITCHELL: Yeah thank you for your time. These, these areas, I mean, is it a coincidence do you think, that we’ve got media, business and politics linked, all attacked? Or is there something going on? Something organized going on?
HASTIE: Well Neil, we’re sitting in the midst of great change. The Prime Minister last year in July gave a speech at the Australian Defence Force Academy, which was the Defence Strategic Update and he mentioned that the Indo-Pacific region is changing. We’re seeing militaries modernise, we’re seeing greater competition. But we’re also seeing what we call grey zone tactics, and that is coercive activity below the threshold of conventional war – and cyber is such a tactic, it’s part of the grey zone tactics that we talk about. And so we need to start thinking about cyber as a battlefield, and we are seeing criminals from one end, to state actors at the other end, looking to undermine Australian individuals, businesses, our parliament, you name it. And we talk about sovereignty and we’ve always talked about it in territorial terms, but we now need to start thinking and talking about what it means for Australia to retain and protect its digital sovereignty.
MITCHELL: That’s interesting, the parliament link, which has horrified me in the past, and now it’s happened again. One would assume that’s not criminal links, one would have to assume and having a look at the parliament it would have to be a foreign power wouldn’t it?
HASTIE: Well, Neil, we don’t make attribution unless it’s clear and in the national interest but I can say that we’re seeing a whole range of hostile actors online, from, as I said, organised criminals, right through to state actors working to undermine our interests. So the Government has put $1.3 billion over the next decade towards protecting our digital sovereignty through the Australian Signals Directorate, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre, which is the single point of truth for all Australians on this. So if you have any questions about cyber, if you want to know what’s happening, how you can protect yourself, to get updates on recent cyber attacks or vulnerabilities in software, please go to cyber.gov.au and get all the information you need right there.
MITCHELL: The last serious hacking of parliament was 2019. Have the systems been upgraded since then?
HASTIE: Look we have the very best technology, not just in government but across private enterprise as well. I should say yesterday, you know, all kudos to the team at Nine, their tech teams caught the hack early and although it disrupted services yesterday, your colleagues at Nine, Neil, managed to get the nightly news on and that was a great achievement. So technology is constantly refreshing. We can never be complacent. And there are little things that we can all do to protect ourselves: having complex passwords, for example, individuals patching their software, which means uploading the most recent security update, and we do that in our personal lives, but government and businesses need to be doing it regularly and I know government certainly is because we can’t afford to have our digital sovereignty undermined. People want to know that our parliament is safe and secure and not being undermined by foreign interests.
MITCHELL: What impact has this had on the parliament? I mean, has it affected your email, for example, what what’s the impact it’s having?
HASTIE: Well, as you’d be aware, there was an issue over the weekend where Parliamentary email experienced an outage, that’s being worked through. And the government acted quickly to defend the integrity of the system. So of course, the Australian Cyber Security Centre is working with government, and also Nine, and I’m confident that things are in a good place at the moment.
MITCHELL: You’re aware of Acer as well, the computer company Acer is under attack, they want $50 million dollars there.
HASTIE: Yeah that’s right, and this is common. Last year alone, Neil, the Australian Cyber Security Centre had 60,000 individual reports of cyber crime or cyber attacks. That’s one every 10 minutes. And they’re the incidents that were reported. So there’s probably a lot more than that. This is happening regularly, which is why at the top of the interview I said we need to start thinking about cyber not just in private terms, but as a new battlefield; and we need to think about protecting Australian sovereignty through our digital sovereignty, not just our own individual security. So if every Australian is having complex passwords, patching their software, and if businesses are constantly refreshing and upgrading their digital systems, we’ll be in a much better place as a country.
MITCHELL: How do you draw the line between these are gangsters trying to extort money from us and these are foreign powers trying to spy on us? How do you how do you actually establish which is which?
HASTIE: Well it’s actually quite difficult. And it’s a very technical question, Neil, and one that I can’t really go into here. Suffice to say, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and many of the private enterprises hire the best minds out there, both to defend and also do the forensic work post-hack to work out who was behind it. And that takes time. And it’s a very challenging thing, but certainly, there are patterns that are emerging and I have full confidence that our intelligence people have a good understanding of what’s going on. Like all things, to talk about attribution, we can only do so when it’s in the national interest and it’s clear, and that’s a matter of judgment for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
MITCHELL: So is, what is happening here, and I take your point about not identifying who but when foreign powers are involved. Is this the equivalent to say 50 years ago? I don’t know, landing a gun, or riding around in a gun boat in a particular area or making some sort of outward threat towards another country? I mean, in military terms, what’s it equivalent to?
HASTIE: Well, that’s right Neil. I’ve spent my working life thinking about national security as it relates to our country here, we’ve always thought about war in terms of air, land, and sea. But increasingly, we’re going to see war, or coercive activities, carried out in space and in cyber. Cyber is low cost, as you’ve made very clear. It’s hard to attribute when someone conducts a cyber attack. And you can do it anytime, anywhere. So, yes, we need to start thinking about cyber as that battlefield, and that’s why we need to protect our critical infrastructure, which is what the government is doing with new legislation to make sure that digital centres and our data are protected because, you’re right, we could have a Pearl Harbor, where we get a cyber attack that has huge consequences for our economy. Our whole economy now is running off the internet and that makes us very vulnerable.
MITCHELL: That’s an interesting point, when you think of the drama of Pearl Harbor in this, in this era, Pearl Harbor is a cyber attack?
HASTIE: That’s right. If you can shut down hospitals, if you can shut down our water assets, our power grid, you can cause huge damage, and so that’s why we really need to think about this. That’s why the government’s investing $1.3 billion into protecting our digital sovereignty and it’s something we need to talk more about. It’s not easy, this subject. It takes a lot of time to educate yourself. And I’m looking forward to having more conversations like this, Neil, where we can discuss these things in layman’s terms.
MITCHELL: Speaking of health systems, we’ve got one here a whole network has been, well it’s coming up to two weeks since it was hacked, and it’s still not back to normal. Now that might not have reached it to your desk, but it’s certainly causing havoc in the health system here.
HASTIE: Well, that’s right, and again, not to harp on it too much, but the Australian Cyber Security Centre in Canberra is a single point of truth on these matters. They work very closely with industry and all Australians to protect us. We also have what we call Joint Cyber Security Centres in all the capital cities across the country, except for Darwin and Hobart, and they work closely with industry as well on these matters.
MITCHELL: Look, good to speak to you. Just on the Canberra issue, I know you’re in Perth at the moment, what’s the mood been like in Canberra? It’s been a rough few weeks, hasn’t it?
HASTIE: Look it has been a rough few weeks, Neil, and, what can I say? We’ve got to get back to the basics. And that’s why today I’m talking to you about cyber – yes, there are important issues that we need to discuss and address, cultural issues, but we also need to protect ourselves and yesterday’s attack online is a reminder that we cannot be complacent when it comes to cyber.
MITCHELL: Do you think, is there a boozy culture? I mean you’re reasonably new to Canberra. I worked there in the early ‘70s and it was a boozy culture then. Is there a boozy culture do you think? Do we need to put the top on the bottle?
HASTIE: Look, Neil I’ve come from the ADF. You know, for my working life there’s always been alcohol in the workplace and at some points there’s been too much and in others it’s been quite dry and healthy. I think all Australians across all workplaces should strive to have a work environment where people feel safe and secure and I myself, I don’t drink in Canberra because I’m already behind the eight ball with a lack of sleep being a West Australian, but moreover it’s important work that we do and the laws of this land are determined in parliament and it’s really important that when we sit at parliament and we debate these things, that we do so with clear minds and with prudence. So look, I’m pretty open to any suggestions and I’m sure these will all be debated over the coming weeks.
MITCHELL: It’s time to get some respect back into the politicians I think. I mean I think certainly the respect has been undermined, both sides, I’m not just talking government, the respect has been undermined the past few weeks it would be good to get it back.
HASTIE: Well people go into parliament for good reasons: they want to serve their country, and they want to better their communities. That’s why I went in – and there is a cost and it is hard work but certainly parliament isn’t there as a playground. It’s there for some of the most important work that we do in this country, and I’d love to see parliament with a bit more respect and that starts by acting in such a way that people do respect us.
MITCHELL: Well I understand what you say about the ADF, I’ve partied with a few of your ex-SAS colleagues but only when the work was finished and I can assure you I couldn’t stay awake with them, but I can understand what you mean about the ADF. Thank you very much for your time.
HASTIE: Thanks, Neil.
MITCHELL: Andrew Hastie, Assistant Minister for Defence.