The Australian government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars defending Australia from foreign cyber attacks, and has stated it employs offensive cyber capabilities to deter possible attacks -- which could mean employing hackers to disrupt activities overseas.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will later on Thursday announce Australia's AU$240 million cybersecurity strategy, which will focus on closer collaboration with business.
Its centrepiece is the sharing of threat information between business and government, using the existing Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and new portals in capital cities. The centre will be relocated from Australia's spy building in Canberra to a more accessible venue, and the prime minister will convene annual meetings with business leaders. The move is set to cost AU$38.8 million.
The strategy, the first since 2009, took 18 months to develop and will create around 100 jobs -- most of which will be highly specialised.
The prime minister will reveal who will fill the newly created role of Cyber Ambassador to liaise between agencies and business, and communicate the strategy internationally.
Turnbull will also announce a new minister assisting the prime minister on cybersecurity and appoint a special adviser on cyber security within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The strategy aims to defend the nation's cyber networks from organised criminals and state-sponsored attackers, and sits alongside the AU$400 million provided in the Defence White Paper for cyber activities.
The government is set to spend AU$136 million on small business grants to boost security, increase the government's cybercrime intelligence and investigation capabilities, create a threat information-sharing portal, and be able to identify vulnerabilities in government systems.
Under the heading of "Global responsibility and influence", AU$6.7 million has been set aside for the Cyber Ambassador overseas advocacy.
Items already catered for under the government's Innovation and Science Agenda announced in December are AU$38 million to support new business and promote the exporting of security products, the creation of a national cybersecurity innovation network, and a boost to Data 61's cyber program.
A total of AU$13.5 million has been allocated to establish academic centres of cybersecurity excellence, and to raise awareness of cybersecurity across the country.
While the government said it doesn't believe there's yet been a serious cyber attack that has compromised national security, there are thousands of smaller intrusions every year. They range from theft of intellectual property to illegally modifying data, to seeking ransom to unlock a computer affected by malicious software.
The government said those types of crimes are becoming more frequent and sophisticated.
"Australians are targets for malicious actors, including serious and organised criminal syndicates and foreign adversaries, who are all using cyberspace to further their aims and attack our interest," Turnbull said.
"We must safeguard against criminality, espionage, sabotage, and unfair competition online."
He pointed to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as an example of how a trusted insider could cause massive disruption, using the illegal disclosure of information as an argument for cultural change.
A report by the ACSC last year found that Australian businesses are increasingly becoming targets of cyber espionage, which can undermine profitability and viability. While difficult to determine the cost to the Australian economy, an industry estimate in 2013 put the figure at $1 billion, the report said.
Announced earlier in the Defence White Paper, around AU$300 million to AU$400 million will be spent over the decade to the 2025-26 financial year on Defence's Cyber Security Capability Improvement program, which forms part of the plan to invest around 9 percent of the Integrated Investment Program to enhance intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, space, and cyber capabilities.
In the areas of intelligence, space, and cybersecurity, 900 new positions within the Australian Defence Force are set to be created, as well as 800 new positions within the public service.