The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated society’s dependence on so-called critical infrastructure assets – the physical facilities, supply chains, information technology and communication (ICT) networks that if destroyed or disabled would significantly impact the social and economic wellbeing of their respective nations. The pandemic also revealed the sheer number of such assets: in not just traditional sectors like energy, defence, and water, but also public health and education, research and innovation, as well as food and grocery.
Sure, publics and governments are becoming aware of their critical dependence on these (numerous) assets. So too are less scrupulous actors, including hostile statebacked entities, hackers, and other cyber criminals.
Indeed, COVID-19 has turbocharged illegal cyber activity – already by June 2020, attacks had increased by a staggering 400 percent – often perpetrated by opportunistic hackers taking advantage of overwhelmed IT offices as vast swathes of the economy first went remote.
These opportunistic strikes would pale in comparison to what was to come. Announced in June 2020, coordinated, state-backed attacks against all levels of the Australian government were orders of magnitude worse. Nor did they abate. Later in the year, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds even decried a “new normal” of persistent cyberattacks on Australian targets, effectively blurring the lines between “peace and war”.
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