Letter of transmittal
The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Canberra ACT 2600
Australian Signals Directorate Annual Report 2020–21
In accordance with section 46 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and section 42A of the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA), I am pleased to present to you the Australian Signals Directorate’s (ASD) Annual Report for 2020–21. This report contains information required by section 17AD of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (PGPA Rule), and complies with section 46 of the PGPA Act as modified by the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (Australian Signals Directorate Section 105D) Determination 2018.
As required by section 17AG(2) of the PGPA Rule, I certify that fraud risk assessments and fraud control plans have been prepared for ASD; that ASD has appropriate mechanisms in place for preventing, investigating, detecting and reporting incidents of fraud; and that all reasonable measures have been taken to deal appropriately with fraud relating to ASD.
Rachel Noble PSM
Australian Signals Directorate
29 September 2021
Director-General ASD's review
I am pleased to present the 2020–21 Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Annual Report.
ASD defends Australia from global threats, and advances the national interest through the provision of foreign signals intelligence, cyber security and offensive cyber operations, as directed by the Government. Throughout 2020–21, ASD continued this critical work with success.
ASD’s operating environment has remained complex and challenging during this reporting period, with Australia facing increased threats to national security, economic prosperity and social wellbeing from foreign interference, espionage and cybercrime – with impacts exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ASD’s foreign signals intelligence operations support a range of activities that protect the lives of Australians. These include providing support to Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations across the globe, tracking the foreign communications of extremists who pose a threat to Australians and Australia’s interests, and supporting the safe release of Australians who have been taken hostage overseas.
ASD’s unique offensive cyber capabilities have been used to effectively counter offshore threat, including the dismantling of online infrastructure used by foreign cybercriminals targeting Australians during the rollout of COVID-19 support measures. ASD also conducted a number of offensive cyber operations in support of the ADF.
In an environment where technology plays an increasing role in the daily lives of Australians, our cyber security functions continue to be critical in supporting national security and prosperity. Throughout 2020–21, Australia was targeted by a range of actors who conducted persistent cyber operations that posed significant threats to Australia, and observed an increase in the speed with which malicious actors have researched and then pivoted to exploit publicly-released vulnerabilities.
Cybercrime continued to be a pervasive and endemic threat to Australia’s economic and social prosperity throughout 2020–21. Cybercriminals follow the money. Australia’s relative wealth, high levels of online connectivity and increasing delivery of services through online channels make it a very attractive and profitable target for cybercriminals. Ransomware is one of the most significant cybercrime threats Australian organisations faced, with modern ransomware attacks increasingly sequenced and orchestrated. 2020–21 saw a nearly 15 per cent increase in ransomware cybercrime reports compared with the previous reporting period.
Throughout 2020–21, ASD’s Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has remained focused on these emerging cyber threats, including those to critical infrastructure and technologies, families and businesses. In this reporting period, the ACSC launched the Act Now, Stay Secure public awareness campaign, providing simple, easy-to-use advice to improve security practises and prevent Australians being victims of cybercrime.
ASD continues to work with the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Federal Police and other partners, including the states and territories, to deliver the Australian Cyber Security Strategy 2020. During 2020–21 ASD commenced the first year of the 10-year Cyber Enhanced Situational Awareness and Response (CESAR) program. Pilot initiatives that form part of the CESAR program are already delivering benefits, including successfully detecting and blocking cyber security threats to government agencies.
A key priority for ASD during 2020–21 has been to continue its engagement with various parliamentary and other oversight bodies, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS); Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade; and the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit; as well as the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and the Auditor-General – all of which provide assurance to the Australian public that ASD furthers the national interest while following the letter and spirit of the law. ASD continued efforts to provide greater transparency of its activities with the launch of a new proactive declassification program.
To support our analysts in an increasingly complex operating environment, ASD has focused on training and careers, modernisation of signals intelligence and cyber systems, and best practice capability development. ASD has defined a program of work to continue its uplift efforts over the coming years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven ASD to reflect on optimising working arrangements. ASD has introduced a new flexible work policy to emphasise and normalise the use of home-based work across the organisation.
ASD has continued its evolution as a statutory agency, with a focus over this reporting period on further uplifting organisational governance and administration, including addressing matters relating to risk management, accountability and decision-making.
An organisation is only as good as its people and the ASD senior management team is fortunate to lead a group of talented, dedicated people with diverse skills willing to overcome challenges in support of Australia’s interests.
I would like to finish by thanking the staff of ASD for their hard work and dedication over this extraordinary year. ASD is a world-class intelligence, covert effects and cyber security agency because of the talented, inventive and diverse people that make up our organisation.
Rachel Noble PSM
Australian Signals Directorate