Kevin Rudd is a cyber agent of KAOS

Summary:This week the Australian online banking system was tested by an agent of KAOS — Kevin Rudd and his $10 billion dollar fiscal package that, as Agent 86 would say, "missed it by that much" on knocking out the banking system.

This week the Australian online banking system was tested by an agent of KAOS — Kevin Rudd and his $10 billion dollar fiscal package that, as Agent 86 would say, "missed it by that much" on knocking out the banking system.

kevin-rudd-154x102.jpg

Agent 86: "Sorry about that, Chief"
(Credit: Australian Labor Party)

As Kevin Rudd (Agent 86) delivered his first National Security Strategy speech about "cyber war" and the threat that KAOS posed to the nation's computer-dependent infrastructure, the $10.4 billion fiscal stimulus that was designed to lubricate the economy knocked out the biggest system that would deliver it — CommBank's NetBank.

Agent 86 would have pulled off his shoe, dialled Ralph Norris and said: "Sorry about that, Chief".

But no, our Agent 86 didn't say that. He was busy in Canberra saying this:

"It is increasingly evident that the sophistication of our modern community is a source of vulnerability in itself... We are highly dependent on computer and information technology to drive critical industries such as aviation; electricity and water supply; banking and finance; and telecommunications networks."

"This dependency on information technology makes us potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks that may disrupt the information that increasingly lubricates our economy and system of government. A number of actors may carry out such attacks ranging from hackers, to commercial entities and foreign states."

After conducting a root cause analysis of the situation, I found that our Agent 86 had forgotten one potentially massive, although unintentional, agent of KAOS: himself.

His $10.4 billion package wasn't an attack, but it was definitely an assault on the information systems "that increasingly lubricate our economy".

NetBank, according to CommBank's CIO, Michael Harte, is the largest transactional website in the southern hemisphere, pumping out one million of the suckers a day. Apparently you can't just inject $10 billion with the click of a button.

As Harte explained, a demand shock can knock out the bank's online systems. Fortunately for our Agent 86, preparation for the expected 300 per cent increase in demand on its systems occurred before the money had hit accounts.

But Harte said something more, suggesting the government was caught off guard (which was unfortunately cut from my original tale): the banks didn't have enough $100 notes to deliver $10 billion to recipients. The Reserve Bank was forced into printing money so that banks could distribute the funds.

Well, it's Tuesday now and so far, in terms of the systems dispensing the money, nothing has gone wrong. Now it's a matter of waiting to see if people will spend it on pokies or Christmas presents.

Agent 86 would have pulled off his shoe, dialled Ralph Norris and said: "Sorry about that, Chief".

As Agent 86 would say of the systems, "Missed it by that much" — a quip I'm sure Rudd would love to say of a recession.

But here's a suggestion for the next Cyber Storm exercise. The banking system was tested during that multinational exercise. Incident response teams were faced with keyloggers which resulted in people being unable to access their accounts online. Steven Stroud, head of Australia's Cyber Storm effort and director of e-security exercises at the Attorney General's Department noted that they addressed symptoms — they reset passwords — but forgot to address the source — removing keyloggers.

But perhaps, a more important issue for our nation's leaders to think of when talking about cyber-stuff, in light of this economic crisis, was Stroud's other criticism. "They're only talking about what they know about. They're only talking about what they can deal with, or deal with shortly. They are not projecting out how bad can this be... That doesn't happen," said Stroud.

The projection problem is really a human flaw that none of us can escape. But while there's nothing wrong with testing various systems' resilience against "hackers, commercial entities and foreign states", a little peek at the Australian GDP's year long nose-dive could have flagged that something big — something that might strain critical infrastructure — was on its way well before the Lehman Brothers collapse in August.

Topics: CXO, Banking, Malware, Security

About

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, s... Full Bio

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