Australian families and businesses are being urged to safeguard their cyber security as criminals and foreign governments ramp up attacks.
A new report from the Australian Cyber Security Centre paints a grim picture of the rapidly increasing threat.
National security agencies receive one report of cyber crime almost every 10 minutes.
Australians lost $634 million to scams in 2019 alone and cybercrime is estimated to cost the national economy up to $29 billion each year.
The federal government warned in June that a wide range of political and private sector organisations were coming under cyber attack from a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor”.
The government did not say which government was responsible, but security experts believe China, Russia and North Korea are the most likely culprits.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the cyber security threat continued to climb over the past few months.
“That threat has not diminished since then – in fact it has increased,” Senator Reynolds told reporters.
It is understood the sophistication and quantity of attacks have both gotten worse.
Calls to the cyber security centre have increased by 300 per cent since the public warning in June.
Not all calls are from people targeted by specific attacks, but it is clear people are becoming more aware of the growing threat.
Hackers doing the bidding of unfriendly governments are attempting to drive disinformation and meddle in the economy, politics and critical infrastructure like energy grids.
“This type of activity really does blur what we previously understood to be peace and war,” Senator Reynolds said.
“We now call it that grey zone in between.”
Criminal networks operating online are aiming for low-hanging fruit.
Instead of targeting confidential or highly classified information, they are sweeping up personal details to commit fraud and identify theft.
“At one end of the spectrum there are opportunistic cyber criminals who target Australians and Australian companies for financial gain,” Senator Reynolds said.
“At the other end of the same spectrum, there are sophisticated and very well resourced state-based actors who are seeking to interfere in our nation.”
The defence minister said responsibility for cyber security must be shared by all Australians.
“We (the government) can observe, we can gain intelligence, we can analyse it, and we do,” she said.
“But ultimately, it is up to every single Australian and all companies to make sure they take the best possible protections they can.”
The federal government is seeking greater powers to protect private sector assets such as electricity grids, communication lines and big banks from hacking attacks.
There is currently no requirement for critical infrastructure providers to report an attack.
The government wants to ensure the most serious incidents are reported to its cyber security centre, and is not ruling out introducing a mandatory system.
The coalition also wants to give security agencies easier access to private sector assets during cyber attacks.
The emergency powers would primarily be discharged on a voluntary basis.
But the government also wants security agencies to be able to take charge when companies are unwilling to cooperate.
Legislation underpinning the powers is expected to be introduced to federal parliament by the end of the year.