Australia has appointed a former Trump aide to help combat cyber attack. Picture: APA/Ritchie B. Tongo
Australia has appointed a former Trump aide to help combat cyber attack. Picture: APA/Ritchie B. Tongo

Morrison recruits Trump security expert to battle cyber attacks

Donald Trump's former Homeland Security chief has been recruited by the Morrison Government to help combat the cyber attacks hitting Australian governments and businesses.

Former US secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen, who led the global campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei, will help the Government put together its cyber security strategy as tensions with China.

Ms Nielsen was one of the first senior figures to call out the threat posed by "actors" linked to the Chinese Ministry of State Security.

 

She is working with Canberra's advisory panel chairman, Telstra chief Andy Penn, to develop Australia's 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, The Australian reports.

The former White House deputy chief of staff has worked closely with Australian politicians and national security chiefs in recen­t years, attending a Five Eyes meeting hosted by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Mr Dutton's spokeswoman told The Australian: "Ms Nielsen brings a wealth of cyber security knowledge to the panel from her experience in defending US government and critical infrastructure networks from cyber security attacks. She will provide valuable insights on how Australia can work with its international partners to address global cyber security threats from nation states and criminal groups.''

Ms Nielsen, who was appointed homeland security chief by Donald Trump in late 2017, has been supporting the advisory panel's work from the US since her appointment on December 18.

 

 

The urgency to finalise the new strategy was highlighted last Friday after Scott Morrison ­revealed Australia was under sustaine­d attack from a "sophistic­ated state-based cyber actor", who was actively targeting critical infrastructure and all levels­ of government.

The Prime Minister, who did not name China as the state-based actor, flagged that "significant investment" would be pumped into the cyber security sector, with the new strategy to be released ahead of the October 6 budget.

With a spike in cyber threats during the COVID-19 pandemic, AusTender documents reveal the Australian Signals Directorate and other government bodies, including­ the Department of Education and Australian Securities and Investments Commission, have spent more than $4.2m engaging private cyber security firms since late April.

Australia is trying to hit back against cyber attacks. Picture: istock
Australia is trying to hit back against cyber attacks. Picture: istock

In early 2018, Ms Nielsen briefed former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on US strategies to "mitigate risks to our ­supply chain, which is being targeted­ by sophisticated adversaries with increasing regularity".

Mr Morrison, as acting home affairs minister, and former communicati­ons minister Mitch Fifield, banned Huawei from involvement in Australia's 5G network in August 2018.

Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday it was clear that China had the "industrial­ scale" capacity to have been involved in the mass cyber attack­s targeting Australia.

"China has the largest cyber espionage operations in the world,'' he told the ABC. "They operate­ at industrial scale. They don't particularly care if they get caught so they can be very brazen. We know all countries engage in foreign intelligence-gathering and espionage. But the level, the scale, of the cyber activities from China are really at an industrial level."

Mr Turnbull said Mr Morrison would need to be "100 per cent" right in accusing China of involvement, describing the relationship with Beijing as "a complex one".

Ms Nielsen, a former adviser to George W. Bush, quit as US secretary of homeland security in April last year. She was appointed to the influential US Energy Depart­ment advisory board in March.

 

 

 

Originally published as Morrison recruits Trump security expert to battle cyber attacks



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