Former ASIO boss warns against cyber energy sector

Energy experts and a former head of ASIO warned that Australia’s critical energy infrastructure was becoming increasingly complex and vulnerable to cyber attacks, but a commensurate improvement in resilience has not occurred.

Former ASIO Managing Director and current Chairman of the Foreign Investment Review Board, David Irvine, said energy was one of many sectors in Australia that lacked sufficient cyber resilience and that most local organizations do not “care enough” about the new “tool of war”.

Progress is being made but not fast enough, and Australia is vulnerable to sophisticated cyber attacks, Irvine said at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce business lunch on Friday.

“Nation states are actively working on what we call hybrid warfare; the ability, without actually shooting people, to bring opposing states to their knees. “

Former Managing Director of ASIO and current Chairman of the Foreign Investment Review Board David Irvine

Russia has already deployed hybrid warfare against several countries in Europe, and the tactics now pose a serious threat to Australia, according to the former ASIO boss.

“Now this is a threat looming on the horizon, and we need to really work hard because, as I keep saying, the wars of the 21st century are going to be fought in cyberspace before one hit. kinetic fire is fired. “

These same cyber warfare tools are also increasingly popular weapons for criminal attackers, Mr Irvine said, but Australian industry and governments have been slow to prepare for attacks and how they will respond.

“As a nation, we must have answers,” he said. “And we, as a nation, have been very slow to understand these needs for answers. “

Mr Irvine said boards of directors now understand the threat of cyber attacks, much more than they did in 2009 when he worked as head of ASIO, but most are still “struggling.” with how to handle an attack.

Governments have also improved their cyber posture, but there is still a lot to do, according to Irvine, who is also the non-executive director of the Cyber ​​Security Cooperative Research Center.

He said the Interior Ministry’s Critical Infrastructure Center had asked the Foreign Investment Review Board to “do its part” to improve national cyber-resilience in the energy sector.

“[Australia is] get there but we don’t care enough yet [about resilience]. But the key point … is that until we improve our national security resilience in all segments of the energy sector, from supply to end-user, we will be vulnerable to types of attacks. that we saw.

The Chairman of the Energy Security Council of Australia, Dr Kerry Schott, said the proliferation of internet-connected devices used to manage energy and the increase in the number of sensors required for renewable energy has created a new service of huge threat.

“All of these things are new ways for people who, if they wanted to do horrible things, can now get into the system, which was not there before,” Dr. Schott said.

She said that in Australia, solar power on rooftops and the grid-connected inverters used with them pose a particularly significant threat, with panels now installed in around one or four Australian homes and inverters manufactured by Huawai – the Chinese electronics company banned from 5G rollout in Australia for national security reasons. – are the most popular ways to manage them. Although Dr Schott said Chinese inverters do not pose a “significant risk”.

“We are now in a world with a lot more sensors, a lot more gadgets… and a lot more ways for people to enter and use systems,” she said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email or Signal.

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