ASIO warns government staff to be cautious online, in new foreign interference campaign

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday November 17, 2020


The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has launched a campaign aiming to educate government employees on the risks of foreign interference online and how to report suspicious activity.

In a public message released this week, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess has warned Australians that “not everyone you meet online is who they say they are”, urging people to “think before you link”.

“Our business is to identify those who are trying to recruit Australians with access to sensitive information in order to get them to commit acts of espionage or foreign interference. This includes foreign spies who are targeting online social and professional networking sites,” he said.

“That’s why this campaign is primarily aimed at Australians with access to sensitive information, such as those of you working in government, defence industry or academia.”

The message encourages Australians to be cautious and mindful when posting personal information online in order to avoid potentially compromising national security, the economy or a business, and to take action if they think they are being targeted.

“The information we’ve prepared is designed to start the conversation. The message is simple: be aware that foreign spies are targeting Australians online, be discreet about your access to sensitive information, and be responsible — please report suspicious activity that concerns you,” Burgess said.

The campaign has been launched just days after an ex Liberal Party candidate was charged with preparing for foreign interference following a year-long investigation by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police.

The spy agency’s latest annual report, released last month, revealed that the organisation has “stepped up” its investigations into attempts to “secretly co-opt current and future Australian politicians”, and warned of recent attempts by foreign governments to seek information about Australia’s capabilities, research and technology, and domestic and foreign policy.

Meanwhile, cyber espionage has been targeting all levels of government, universities and academia to gain access to sensitive and commercially valuable information, the report said.

Last month Burgess told senate estimates that foreign interference is highest at the local government level, and explained some of the tactics foreign governments might deploy in their attempts to influence public servants or politicians.

ASIO has developed a number of resources to help government employees and organisations recognise and report threats, including an online networking guide and a staff briefing pack.

The agency’s campaign follows similar efforts from the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand.

Read more: Level of foreign interference highest within local government, ASIO boss says


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