Australia to spend $1.2 billion on cyber security for private sector after rise in attacks

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will spend A$1.66 billion ($1.19 billion) over the next 10 years to strengthen the cyber defences of companies and households after a rise in cyber attacks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference held with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Cyber attacks on businesses and households are costing about A$29 billion $20.83 billion) or 1.5% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP), Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Just weeks ago, Canberra said it would spend A$1.35 billion over the next decade to bolster the capabilities of its chief cyber intelligence agency.

Morrison said in June that a “sophisticated state-based actor” had spent months trying to hack all levels of the government, political bodies, essential service providers and operators of critical infrastructure.

Sources told Reuters that Australia views China as the chief suspect, a suggestion swiftly dismissed by Beijing.

Much of Australia’s cyber policy to date has focused on bolstering the defences of government agencies after an attack on the parliament in 2019, but malicious cyber activity is increasing against small and medium businesses, universities and households, Morrison said.

The increased spending is intended to fortify critical infrastructure, boost police efforts to disrupt criminal activity on the dark web and strengthen community awareness.

“We will protect our vital infrastructure and services from cyber attacks. We will support businesses to protect themselves so they can succeed in the digital economy,” said Morrison.

Australia will also embark on a more aggressive approach to disrupting would-be attackers.

The Australian Signals Directorate - which, Reuters revealed last year, determined China was responsible for hacking Australia’s parliament - will be given new funding to counter foreign cyber attacks.

China denies it was responsible for the attack, which came months before a national election.

Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry and Kim Coghill