Govt signs Five Eyes ransomware pledge

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

In anticipation of international borders reopening , Australia has recommitted to collaborating with its Five Eyes counterparts on migration, foreign interference, child exploitation and cybercrime – including the growing threat of ransomware which received a new dedicated agreement.

In one of her first major moves as Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrew’s met virtually with her Ministerial counterparts from the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada last week.

“Cooperation with our trusted partners is critical to keeping Australians safe, particularly in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Mrs Andrews said in a statement on Friday.

“By working together and leveraging our collective knowledge and experiences we can better respond to threats here at home.”

Karen Andrews
Karen Andrews and Five Eyes countries pledge to work together on global challenges.

The countries signed a new communiqué which includes commitments to share best practices on “innovative and effective border and migration measures” in response to the pandemic, countering foreign interference in academia and research and development, a global approach to combatting cybercrime and ransomware, and a feasibility study on a shared dataset for law enforcement agencies combatting child exploitation.

“The whole world is eager to open up again, but it’s essential that we do it in a way that’s safe and sustainable,” Mrs Andrews said.

“The development of international standards and best practice will be critical to ensure the resumption of large-scale international travel in the future.”

A dedicated statement was issued for how the countries expect to tackle the growing threat of ransomware which was noted as a criminal threat but also a risk to national security, critical infrastructure and governments.

Five Eyes countries committed to sharing lessons on ransomware and, where possible, aligning national policies, public messaging and industry engagement.

The group also pledged to address the “underlying factors” of the issue, including reducing the public’s exposure to ransomware.

Australia has identified the threat of ransomware most recently in a government advisory group report which urges Australian businesses to implement basic cybersecurity practices but includes no recommendations for governments or policies.

The Opposition criticised the report and released its own paper calling for the government to develop a National Ransomware Strategy and take actions to reduce the attractiveness of Australian businesses for hackers.

The final commitment in the Five Eyes agreement is to continue the global fight against child exploitation and abuse. The pandemic and new technologies are compounding the problem, the group said in the agreement which includes committing to a new feasibility study on a “specific combined dataset for use by our law enforcement agencies”.

Five Eyes countries are also asking for more from the tech companies which provide the digital services perpetrators routinely exploit. While the agreement supports “strong encryption” and a collaborative approach between government and industry, Australia’s representative attacked social media companies and their encrypted services.

“We all have a role to play in tackling this horrific behaviour, including technology companies who are neglecting their social responsibility to protect children online. Their use of end-to-end encryption is putting children’s safety at risk and precludes lawful access to data,” Ms Andrews said in her statement.

“Our Government will continue to work with our trusted partners to pressure technology companies to address public safety challenges by building their systems and platforms with safety front of mind.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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