UK helps Australia's cyber-spy unit get to work

British cybersecurity experts are advising Australia on the launch of its new cyber-investigations body, which aims to counter threats such as Stuxnet
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The UK is helping Australia's secret service to set up a special unit dedicated to fighting online threats, continuing an ongoing cybersecurity partnership between the countries.

UK Australia cybersecurity partnership

The UK is helping Australia set up a counter-cyber-espionage unit, Australia's attorney general Robert McClelland announced. Photo credit: Darren Pauli/ZDNet Australia

Australian attorney general Robert McClelland announced the counter-cyber-espionage unit on Thursday, saying it will operate within the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio), a domestic agency equivalent to the UK's MI5.

"Asio has... established a specialist cyber-investigations unit to investigate and provide advice on state-sponsored cyberattack against, or involving, Australian interests," McClelland said in a speech in Canberra.

The Cabinet Office confirmed on Friday that British agencies are working with Australia to get the unit's work underway. "We'll be advising [Asio] as and when they call for advice," a spokesman for the department said.

The UK's own cyberattack and defence unit, the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), is based in Cheltenham and has links to signals intelligence agency GCHQ. CSOC was launched in June 2010.

"We would automatically share with [Asio] our experiences of setting up CSOC," the Cabinet Office spokesman said. "It's part of an established international protocol."

In January, Australia and the UK announced a 'cyber-partnership' to combat online security threats, building on existing relationships. The countries, along with the US, Canada and New Zealand, co-operate on cybersecurity issues in an organisation unofficially called the 'Five Eyes'.

In his speech, McClelland mentioned the Stuxnet worm and GhostNet as the kinds of problems Australian authorities want to identify early and respond to quickly. He highlighted "the threat posed by those using the internet as a modern espionage tool with the potential to facilitate access to large volumes of sensitive government and commercial information".

"Asio is also working to guard against foreign interference and espionage, including via technical means," McClelland said.

Like the British authorities, the Australian government has said that cyberattack is a 'tier-one' threat to the country, in the same bracket as threats such as terrorism.

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