Public sector at espionage risk

James Riley
Editorial Director

Cyber-espionage remains a top concern when it comes to government cyber security, with the latest Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) from global provider Verizon finding that 43 per cent of breaches in the public sector were espionage-motivated.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50 per cent of breaches found to have an espionage motivation were carried out by state-affiliated organisations.

“In the government sector, everyone is a target,” Verizon Australia and New Zealand managing director Rob Le Busque told

Rob Le Busque: Espionage remains a key motivator for public sector breaches

“They are a highly desirable target, particularly from a cyber espionage perspective. The interconnectedness of government departments and infrastructure means a very small government agency that might not ordinarily be considered to be holding very sensitive information could represent a breach vector for the larger government enterprise.”

Mr Le Busque also warned that the public sector needed to speed up its ability to detect and remediate from cyberattacks.

“We’re seeing the window of compromise as being longer. In more cases we’re seeing it takes weeks, months, or years for the detection and remediation for breaches to occur [in the public sector], when compared to the overall group,” he said.

The research also flagged that when it comes to public sector attacks, it does not only mean that state secrets are the target, personal data is also at risk.

“A lot of the information that can be compromised is information that can be deemed as personal data,” Mr Le Busque said.

“The government needs to have a better understanding of access to personal data on a need-to-know basis, as opposed to broad access rights that you tend to get in flattened IT infrastructure and networks.”

As there is no indication that frequency of attacks was slowing down, Mr Le Busque said government needs to work closely with industry to improve cybersecurity posture within both the public and private sector be it through education, broad base communication or targeting specific industry sectors.

“Overall for 58 per cent of breaches, it’s categorised as impacting small businesses. If we peer at that in the Australian context then policy needs to contemplate how the government can assist those organisations with maturing their cybersecurity posture,” he said.

“The other part is how do we address user awareness outside of the technology suite. From a policy perspective that’s important for government to consider so that we can identify that target population, and what are the meaningful messages and protocols that we can communicate to them to help raise that baselines of security maturity.”

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