ASD and cyber

Cray Supercomputer on display at Brindabella Park, Canberra.
Cray supercomputer on display at Brindabella Park, Canberra.

ASD works with government and industry to detect and respond to threats to critical infrastructure. When a government agency asks for cyber support, or when a business entity or a member of the public reports a cyber incident, ASD responds. This is ASD’s ‘licence to operate’. 

While ASD has been responsible for communications security since its inception in 1947, the idea of ‘computer security’ was first raised in the 1974–77 Royal Commission into Intelligence and Security (RCIS).  The RCIS recommended that DSD become responsible for Commonwealth computer security, and in 1986 this was tabled in Parliament. 

In that same year, DSD installed Australia’s first supercomputer, the Cray Research system, which the organisation could use to encrypt sensitive material, to crack open the encrypted data of other countries, or to sift through international data and voice traffic.

The new millennium brought with it the massive growth of the internet and a recognition of our increasing reliance on it. In January 2010, the Defence Signals Directorate (soon to become ASD) established a dedicated Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC). Its role was to develop a comprehensive understanding of information and communication technology (ICT) security threats to critical Australian government systems, and coordinate advice and responses to those threats across both government and industry. 

In November 2014, the CSOC became the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) that we know today. The ACSC brought the cyber capabilities of all contributing agencies under one banner, with a remit that now included the whole of government, industry and the Australian public. 

On 21 April 2016, the Australian Government’s 2016 Cyber Security Strategy and the accompanying Prime Minister’s announcement acknowledged that ASD has offensive cyber capability that may be used to deter and respond to malicious cyber intrusions and attacks. Following the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, ASD’s cyber mission expanded once again as the ACSC formally became part of ASD, and the organisation was given powers to combat cybercrime offshore.

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