Australia’s cybersecurity agency was able to alert two other organisations they were targeted by the same ransomware attackers who crippled Nine Entertainment thanks to the agency’s “classified” powers.
Nine’s TV programming and print production were thrown into disarray in March when the media giant was hit by a ransomware attack that locked staff out of emails, internet access and print production systems.
The director general of the Australian Signals Directorate, Rachel Noble, has told a Senate estimates hearing that assisting Nine allowed the ASD to avert two other planned attacks.
“We were very engaged with them and the technical information that they were able to provide us about what happened on their network helped us using our more classified capabilities to warn two other entities they were about to be victims as well to prevent them from becoming victims,” Noble said on Wednesday.
Noble said ASD could launch attacks against criminals offshore when there was a reasonable level of confidence it would not involve Australians. But it did not do so during the Nine incident.
The ASD did launch attacks against scammers and hackers who were targeting Australians in April 2020 when the Covid pandemic was taking hold in Australia.
The estimates hearing was told the healthcare sector was the number one target for ransomware attacks and ASD was determining the likelihood of hospitals or hospital networks being attacked.
Abigail Bradshaw, the head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, said the centre had a direct link to the federal health department to feed it information regarding any potential attacks.
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“We have direct links and in fact officers embedded in the Department of Health, because of the criticality of the health sector at the moment. That means we alert the Department of Health whenever there is an impact to the healthcare sector, but also in particular, any entity involved in the vaccine rollout because that is of critical importance.”
ASD offered assistance to meat processing giant JBS, which was forced to shut down processing in Australia, the US and Canada as a result of a ransomware attack this week, Noble said. But the company did not require help at this stage.
“We have been engaging with the JBS subsidiary here in Australia to provide them with the best advice and assistance we can. They have a private incident response provider, which is terrific, and they know we’re here for them,” Noble said.
The Labor party has been calling on the government to introduce a national ransomware strategy and target criminals engaging in ransomware attacks.
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