Australia to 'stand up and punch back' against cyber crims

Creates 100-strong squad comprising cops and spooks with remit to disrupt ransomware ops

Australia's government has declared the nation is planning to go on the offensive against international cyber crooks following recent high-profile attacks on local health insurer Medibank and telco Optus.

The aggressive posture was expressed in the announcement of a "Joint standing operation" that will see the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Signals Directorate (Australia's GCHQ/NSA analog) run a team with a mission "to investigate, target and disrupt cyber-criminal syndicates with a priority on ransomware threat groups."

Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security Clare O'Neil said the operation will "scour the world, hunt down the criminal syndicates and gangs who are targeting Australia in cyber-attacks, and disrupt their efforts."

"This is Australia standing up and punching back," she said during an interview on local political talking heads program Insiders. "We are not going to sit back while our citizens are treated like this and allow there to be no consequences for that."

O'Neill said the operation will "for the first time [be] offensively attacking these people."

"This is not a model of policing, where we wait for a crime to be committed and then try to understand who it is and do something to the people who are responsible. We are offensively going to find these people hunt them down and debilitate them before they can attack our country."

The minister wouldn't say exactly what the standing operation will achieve.

"I think we need to shift away from the sense that the only good outcome here is someone behind bars. Because that can be hard when we've got people who are essentially being harbored by foreign governments, and allowed to continue this type of activity," she explained during the Insiders interview. "But what we can do is two important things. The first thing is hunt these people down and disrupt their operations.

"It weakens these groups if governments like ours collaborate with the FBI and other police forces and intelligence agencies around the world. The second important thing that we need to do is stand up and say that Australia is not going to be a soft target to this sort of thing. And if people come after our citizens, we are going to go after them."

O'Neill also flagged government action to improve security across the nation.

"It's got to be a partnership between business government and Australian citizens," she said. "What we need to do, and what I need to do in my job, is drive a whole of nation effort where we see all of these groups in the community lift up their defences together."

At the time of writing, the defences remained breached: the attackers that hacked Medibank today released more data describing treatments undergone by the insurer's members. The miscreants said they'll stop releasing further data until Friday in the hope Medibank responds to their demands for payments.

Medibank has said it will not make any payment to the attackers – a stance that has Australian government support. ®

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