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Government Issued Warning: Large scale cyber campaign targeting Australian public and private sector

  • Market Insight 19 June 2020 19 June 2020
  • Asia Pacific

  • Cyber Risk

It has been announced that the Australian Government is responding to a sustained targeting of the Australian public and private sector by a sophisticated state-based actor. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has issued a warning to Australian organisations, to both be aware of this threat and take immediate steps to enhance the resilience of their networks.

Government Issued Warning: Large scale cyber campaign targeting Australian public and private sector

We set out below a summary of the notice and what organisations need to do in response to this government issued public warning. Given the highly public nature of this warning (coming from the Prime Minister's Office and Minister for Defence) we recommend that all organisations pass this warning to their IT team or managed service provider for actioning.

ACSC public warning of cyber threat

The Australian Government has explained that it is currently aware of, and responding to, a sustained targeting of Australian governments and companies by a sophisticated state-based actor.

The ACSC's investigations have labelled this cyber campaign as "copy-paste compromises". The threat actor is understood to be utilising tools copied from open source, to leverage a number of initial access vectors.

The threat actor has been observed to be targeting public-facing infrastructure, particularly through vulnerabilities in unpatched versions of Telerik UI, Microsoft Internet Information Services, 2019 SharePoint and 2019 Citrix.

There is also evidence that the threat actor is utilising 'spearphishing' techniques, including:

  • links to credential harvesting websites;
  • emails with links to malicious files, or with the malicious file directly attached;
  • links prompting users to grant Office 365 OAuth tokens to the actor; and
  • use of email tracking services to identify the email opening and lure click-through events.

Consistent with its mission of supporting the private sector enhance its resilience against cyber risk, the ACSC has provided the community with a list of indicators of compromise detailing the tactics, techniques and procedures identified. This is so that steps can be taken to prevent against identified cyber risk, which we set out below.

We also recommend that any active cyber incident investigations have regard to this public issued warning to identify whether activity can be linked to this notice, and ensure appropriate action is taken. This may include contacting the ACSC for further assistance, through the online reporting portal:

What do organisations need to do?

The ACSC has recommended the following two key risk mitigation steps which organisations should implement now to reduce the risk of compromise:

  • Patch internet-facing software, operating systems and devices within the next 48 hours - All exploits used by the actor in the course of its campaign are publicly known and there are patches or mitigation steps available. Where possible, use the latest versions of software and operating systems.
  • Use multi-factor authentication across all remote access services - Multi-factor authentication needs to be applied to all internet-accessible remote access services, including:
    • web and cloud-based email, including Microsoft Office 365;
    • collaboration platforms;
    • virtual private network connections; and
    • remote desktop services.

Beyond this, the ACSC strongly recommends:

More information is available here:

How can we help?

Clyde & Co has the largest dedicated and rapidly expanding cyber incident response practice in Australia and New Zealand. Our experienced team have dealt with over 700 data breach and technology related disputes in recent times, including a number of the largest and most complex incidents in Asia Pacific to date.

From pre-incident readiness, breach response, through to defence of regulatory investigations and proceedings, as well as recovery actions against wrongdoers, we assist clients in Asia Pacific across the full cyber lifecycle. Our team is also highly regarded for their expertise and experience in managing all forms of disputes across sectors including advising on some of the most newsworthy class actions commenced in Australia.

Our 24 hour cyber incident response hotline or email allows you to access our team directly around the clock. For more information, contact us on:

  • Australia: + 61 2 9210 4464
  • New Zealand: 0800 527 508

Thanks to Emily Wood for her contributions to this article.


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