by George Nott

Are pollies finally going to get some cyber security advice?

Jan 24, 2017

The leaders of Australia’s political parties will be invited to a briefing by experts from the Australian Signals Directorate on the cyber security threat to the democratic process.

Prompted by “Russian interference” in the US elections, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was crucial to “make sure we maintain the integrity of our political process”.

Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Dan Tehan received a high-level briefing this morning at the ASD in Canberra. Their counterparts from other political parties will be briefed by the ASD when parliament returns next week.

“We need to be aware of the threats and how to mitigate them and protect against them,” Turnbull said. “Awareness is the absolutely most important first step. A lot of the vulnerabilities, as you will have seen, are because people do not follow good cyber practise.”

Opening attachments from unknown sources, poor password management and failure to use two-factor authentification were mentioned as examples by Turnbull, adding that “better practices” were what MPs needed to protect themselves.

The announcement follows the release of a dataset last week that showed Australian government officials – including cabinet and shadow-cabinet ministers – were among the victims of the 2013 Yahoo hack.

Asked whether compromising materials had been gathered on Australian government officials Turnbull said he would be speculating but “clearly that is a vector”.

Not before time

A number of opposition MPs and those from other political parties have criticised the government for taking so long to provide the much needed advice.

Labor MP Tim Watts tweeted that the briefing was: “Not before time.”

In November last year, Tehan had announced he would be penning a stern letter to cabinet ministers urging them and their departments to take cyber security more seriously.

Watts, writing in a blog post last week, said that he had not yet received such a letter.

“Unfortunately, so far, nobody has been writing to Members of Parliament or the people working around them to tell them what they should be doing to protect themselves from this growing threat,” he wrote.

He added that “poor cyber-hygiene is rife among MPs, candidates, political staff and volunteers” and that MPs were “largely on their own when it comes to protecting themselves against these threats”.

Tehan, speaking on ABC Breakfast this morning said that the government would provide agencies with the “advice that they need” and the issue wasn’t, yet, a “matter of resources”.

“We want to ensure that we are secure,” Tehan said. “We need to make sure we’re ahead of the game here in Australia and to make sure that we have put all the steps in place we need to keep our electoral system safe. What you need to do is make sure that you’ve got the measures in place.”