ASIO chief warns of critical infrastructure sabotage threat – Telecoms Tech

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Mike Burgess, Director General of Security at Australia’s Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), has raised concerns over the potential for sabotage targeting critical infrastructure.

Speaking at ASIO’s annual threat assessment, Burgess emphasised the persistent efforts of adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in digital infrastructure—with a specific focus on disrupting essential services during critical moments.

“The sabotage threat has receded in recent decades, but I worry it could re-emerge—particularly in relation to critical infrastructure,” Burgess cautioned, underscoring the potential impact of cyber attacks as a cost-effective and high-impact method of sabotage.

Highlighting the interconnected nature of critical infrastructure networks, Burgess stressed the heightened vulnerabilities and access points susceptible to exploitation by malicious actors.

In his address, Burgess identified a range of actors showing increased interest in sabotage, including terrorists, foreign spies, and nationalist and racist violent extremists.

While acknowledging that some groups may engage in rhetoric without significant intent, Burgess pointed to concrete evidence of nation-states conducting sophisticated reconnaissance operations targeting critical infrastructure in Australia and other countries.

“We are aware of one nation-state conducting multiple attempts to scan critical infrastructure, targeting water, transport, and energy networks,” Burgess disclosed, shedding light on the intricate tradecraft employed by these actors to identify vulnerabilities and exploit digital systems.

Drawing attention to recent incidents such as the 2023 outage at Australian telco Optus, Burgess underscored the potential ramifications of widespread infrastructure disruptions, urging stakeholders to consider the broader implications for national security and public safety.

“Imagine the implications if a nation-state took down all the networks? Or turned off the power during a heatwave?” Burgess posed, highlighting the real-world impact of such scenarios.

While acknowledging the speculative nature of these threats, Burgess cautioned that foreign governments are actively exploring these possibilities, with sophisticated cyber teams conducting extensive investigations.

“These incidents are not hypotheticals,” Burgess cautioned, suggesting that such threats could materialise during times of conflict or heightened geopolitical tensions.

As Australia grapples with emerging threats to its critical infrastructure, Burgess’s warning serves as a timely reminder of the evolving nature of national security challenges.

See also: Toshiba and Orange demo quantum-secure fibre data transmission

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