Cyber espionage attacks by nation states against Australia are expected to increase in both number and sophistication over the coming years, the country's domestic spy agency has warned.
The "relatively low cost" and "plausible deniability" on offer from such attacks will lure more malicious actors to conduct cyber espionage campaigns, ASIO said in its annual report released today [pdf].
"As technology evolves, there will be an increase in the sophistication and complexity of attacks," it said.
"The cyber threat is persistent, sophisticated and not limited by geography—Australian individuals and organisations can be targeted regardless of the physical location of the perpetrator.
"Increasingly, foreign states have acquired or are in the process of acquiring cyber espionage capabilities designed to satisfy strategic, operational and commercial intelligence requirements."
Foreign intelligence services were specifically targeting bulk data sets and privileged public and private sector information including intellectual property, ASIO said.
"Developing and implementing effective mitigation strategies for these issues is critical to reducing the threat to an acceptable level."
However, it said the number of reported or detected cyber attacks was currently only "a fraction" of the total espionage threat Australia faces.
Struggling with modern technology
The agency also admitted that it was struggling to keep up with "rapid technological change" that provides attackers new tools to circumvent security and law enforcement agencies.
Not only is the agency having trouble with encryption technologies, it is also struggling internally to build the capability it needs to stay ahead of new threats.
Building and maintaining these technical capabilities is "resource intensive", ASIO said.
"Transforming existing agency information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure to effectively exploit new capabilities, manage the large volume and variety of data available, and to be adapted easily to new technologies is a major challenge, and one that will require significant, ongoing investment," ASIO said.
"In addition to technological challenges in the operating environment, we faced heightened threats to our staff, facilities and information. This requires the diversion of resources to ensure the security and effectiveness of our operations."
It has been working on defining an enterprise technology strategy that will "enable ASIO to excel in using technology and data to achieve our purpose".
"Given the increasing opportunities and challenges brought about by rapid advances in technology, it is imperative that ASIO is a ‘data-enabled organisation’, connected to its partners, accountable to the people, innovative in its approach, and sustainable for the long term," the agency said.
"During this reporting period, we agreed our strategy and began implementing the actions necessary to take us towards our vision."
It has also been on a recruitment drive to lure professionals in intelligence, analytics, and technical and IT into these "difficult to fill" roles.