One of the most exciting pieces of news this week is that Australia has passed new laws which deal with cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.
The laws covering sabotage in Australia, up until now, have been targeted at protecting defense facilities. Foreign-backed saboteurs who target such facilities face up to 15 years in prison. The new laws extend the definition of “sabotage” to include a wide range of cyber attacks.
Of particular note is the fact that even planting “sleeper” bugs is now considered sabotage. These are viruses that do nothing to affect the normal operation of equipment and systems until they are triggered.
This type of attack is notoriously hard to detect, because they cause no immediate harm. Yet in the event of a war, the activation of previously latent viruses could bring critical infrastructure to a shuddering halt.
The new laws fit into a broader shift in Australian politics. It seems that growing tensions in the Pacific region are forcing lawmakers to prepare for a war that even 10 years ago was unthinkable. Though this political current is not overtly acknowledged by politicians, its influence can be seen in many new pieces of new legislation.
One of the most prominent is the attitude toward gun control in Australia. 20 years ago, the country’s gun laws were similar to the US. In recent years, however, Australia has continually tightened regulation around the control of firearms. It is now nearly impossible for citizens to pick up small arms like the 9mm 1911 without piles of paperwork.
Though most politicians claim that these gun laws are for the protection of the public, it is clear that they also have another function: reducing the number of weapons in the country, just in case armed hostilities break out.
The government’s approach to cybersecurity is another example of this. The Australian government seems painfully aware of how vulnerable the country is to cyber attack. This is true not only of government facilities, but also extends to many of the companies in the country.
Last year, the Australian PM launched an information campaign, aimed at educating businesses about protecting themselves against cyber attack. The campaign promoted quick and easy ways for businesses to increase cyber security, such as privacy software like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and recommended that new companies take out small business loans to bolster their cybersecurity.
Seen more broadly, the new sabotage laws are a recognition of a fact that I have returned to in this column before. Cyber warfare is no longer the domain of underground hackers. It is now so cheap to implement cyber warfare programs that even many developing countries have done so.
This is of particular concern to Australia, because of their geographical location in the Pacific. Two of the largest state sponsors of cyber attacks — China and North Korea – are active in the region, and it is not unthinkable that cyber warfare will be part of a coordinated land grab in coming years.
Sam Bocetta is a defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, a defense analyst, and a freelance journalist. He specializes in finding radical — and often heretical — solutions to “impossible” ballistics problems. Through Lakeview Capital, he also cultivates funding for projects — usually naval, defense, and UAV startups. He writes about naval engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, marine ops, program management, defense contracting, export control, international commerce, patents, InfoSec, cryptography, cyberwarfare, and cyberdefense. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.