Australian government releases new advice for universities ‘targeted by foreign interference’ | The Canberra Times | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack

news, federal-politics, foreign interference, national security, alan tudge, karen andrews, anu, asio

Universities will be encouraged to adopt stronger countermeasures to tackle the sector’s threat of foreign interference as the federal government warns of an increasing risk. The federal government released on Wednesday an updated set of guidelines for universities to follow, offering advice to reduce their exposure to foreign espionage risks. It comes three years after the Australian National University became the victim of a major cyber attack by a foreign state actor. Improvements to escalation processes, educating staff and students on threat awareness and increasing cybersecurity defences are among some of the recommendations the document offers the tertiary sector. It aims to reduce the risk of foreign interference without harming international engagement between Australia and overseas universities. “There is a challenge in finding the balance between protecting against the risk of foreign interference and promoting the free exchange of ideas, which is a core principle of universities,” the guidelines read. It’s hoped the guidelines will provide the tertiary sector with a consistent, national approach to the growing espionage threat. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Wednesday’s release formed another step in the federal government’s response to bolstering the protection of critical institutions. “These updated guidelines are more important than ever – with international students set to return to many Australian jurisdictions soon, we need to ensure our university campuses embody the free, open, transparent debate that is so vital to an Australian education, and to our way of life,” she said. “The guidelines will protect universities, students and researchers from hostile foreign actors and intelligence services; who have been known to target sensitive research, muzzle debate, and intimidate foreign students.” Education Minister Alan Tudge added that research integrity was taken very seriously and the guidelines would look to reduce the chance of vital information produced by the universities from being stolen. “We have seen that Australian universities are a target for foreign interference with foreign actors using sophisticated and deceptive means to steal Australian research and intellectual property,” he said. READ MORE: Peak tertiary body Universities Australia welcomed the updated guidelines with chair Professor John Dewar calling them a “proportionate” and “important step forward” to mitigate the threat. “The guidelines are an important step forward in effectively countering foreign interference on our campuses, and balancing that work with the essential openness of any strong research system,” he said. “Importantly, the guidelines are proportionate and carefully tailored to universities with varying exposure and risk levels. “Now the guidelines are finalised, the sector will work on implementing the refreshed advice. We will continue to adapt and update our approach as well as share good practice across all university campuses.” Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt earlier this year spoke of how the threat had become more present in recent years. In a parliamentary hearing, the vice-chancellor said he had first began receiving briefings from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in 2016 as the university had a “particularly large exposure” to the risks. But the threat had accelerated considerably in the past three years. “Those conversations [with ASIO and other intelligence agencies] have increased quite dramatically over the last several years,” Professor Schmidt said. “In 2018, it ramped up dramatically and expanded to other agencies, so ASIO, ASD, ONI, Home Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “That reflects, I think, the changing and evolving set of relationships that we [saw] as a nation.” In December 2018, the university experienced a major data breach, which it publicly revealed in mid-2019. The breach resulted in the data of students and staff members being accessed and copied, but not altered. It included names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, tax-file numbers, payroll information, bank account details, passports and academic records. The domestic intelligence agency’s head Mike Burgess told the committee during a previous public hearing the actor behind the cyber attack was “known” but he would not reveal the country publicly. “I do know who was behind it but I would not say that publicly,” Mr Burgess said. “There’s not just one country that we should be concerned about … one country in particular is highly active but they’re not alone in that endeavour.” Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:


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