Category Archives: ASIO

Government’s plan to spy on all Australians exposed in leaked letters

It may shortly be far easier for government spies to access your private data. Photo source: Pixabay

We’re constantly being advised to protect our data and information online, but it turns out there may be even a greater threat & cause for concern.

An exclusive report by The Sunday Telegraph reveals our online data may not even be safe from the Australian Government. Australian citizens may soon be subjected to secret digital monitoring by the top cyber spy agency in the country with no warrant rerquired for accessing all your info when they feel like it.

This means everything from text messages to emails and even bank statements could be accessed in secret under the radical new proposed plan. The Sunday Telegraph viewed the secret letters between the heads of Department of Home Affairs and Defence. The letters detail possible new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

As the current rules stand, intelligence is not to be produced on Australian citizens. Having said that, the Australian Federal Police and domestic spy agency ASIO can investigate people with a warrant and also seek help from the ASD if needed in what are deemed to be extreme cases.

If the proposal is passed, it would be up to Defence Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to allow spying to occur. Furthermore, they could approve cases without Australia’s top law officers being aware of it.

The Sunday Telegraph believes Dutton hasn’t yet presented Payne with any formal proposals for changes to the legislation. If passed though, spies would be given permission to secretly access information relating to an Australian citizens’ financial data, health information and phone records. A change in law would mean it’s also illegal for government agencies and private businesses to hold back any information that could hinder the security measures.

The Sunday Telegraph believes the reason for the data crackdown would be to stop terrorism, child exploitation and other serious crimes being conducted both here in Australia and overseas.

Several times in recent months online data and its safety has made headlines. Earlier this year, Facebook came under fire for breaching privacy data rules. As it stands, anything you share or access online remains there, even if you delete it.

This means any photos, emails, website history, online comments and videos you upload or view are stored away somewhere in cyberspace. Worryingly, any information shared on a social media platform such as Facebook will remain with the company, even if your profile is deleted.

What are your thoughts? Have you concerns that your private information could be secretly accessed by spies and the government? Do you think it’s really to protect Australians, or just another feeble excuse for the government to gain more information about us? Big brother is going too far this time one would think. Write to your MP.

Henry Sapiecha

ASIO restructuring strategy and resources in the face of cyber threat

The country’s intelligence agency has aligned its resources to focus on the growing threat of cyber espionage targeting ‘a range’ of Australian interests.

In the wake of accusations from United States intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into Democratic Party emails, thus helping Donald Trump to election victory last year, a report from Australia’s intelligence agency said the country’s national security resources are focused on preventing foreign threat actors from “targeting a range of Australian interests”.

In its 2016-17 Annual Report [PDF], the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) explained that Australia continued to be a target of espionage and foreign interference, noting in particular that foreign intelligence services sought access to privileged and/or classified information on Australia’s alliances and partnerships; the country’s position on international diplomatic, economic, and military issues; as well as energy and mineral resources, and innovations in science and technology-related fields.

ASIO called the threat from espionage and foreign interference to Australian interests “extensive, unrelenting, and increasingly sophisticated”.

“Foreign intelligence services are targeting a range of Australian interests, including clandestine acquisition of intellectual property, science and technology, and commercially sensitive information,” the report explains.

“Foreign intelligence services are also using a wider range of techniques to obtain intelligence and clandestinely interfere in Australia’s affairs, notably including covert influence operations in addition to the tried and tested human-enabled collection, technical collection, and exploitation of the internet and information technology.”

During the reported period, ASIO said it identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations, and government officials, motivated by the appeal of “advancing their country’s own political objectives”.

As highlighted by ASIO, rapid technological change continued to provide people who are engaging in activities that threaten Australia’s security with new tools to conceal their activities from security and law enforcement agencies. In particular, ASIO said the use of encrypted communications by security intelligence targets was — and still is — an area of particular concern.

“Australia continues to be a target of espionage through cyber means; the cyber threat is persistent, sophisticated, and not limited by geography,” ASIO warned.

“Increasingly, foreign states have acquired, or are in the process of acquiring, cyber espionage capabilities designed to satisfy strategic, operational, and commercial intelligence requirements.”

Watching carefully the area of investment flows, ASIO said that while Australia’s open and transparent economy, which invites foreign investment, is a welcome and important contributor to Australia’s national wealth, it is not without national security risks.

“For example, foreign intelligence services are interested in accessing bulk data sets and privileged public or private sector information, including Australian intellectual property. Developing and implementing effective mitigation strategies for these issues is critical to reducing the threat to an acceptable level,” the report says.

Another emerging issue of potential national security concern to ASIO is the lack of diversity of ownership within certain infrastructure sectors.

The agency also said that the number of cybersecurity incidents either detected or reported within Australia represents a fraction of the total threat the country legitimately faces.

While technology provided security and law enforcement agencies with new opportunities to identify activities of security concern, ASIO said building and maintaining technical collection capabilities to stay ahead of the threats proved to be resource intensive.

“Transforming existing agency information and communications technology infrastructure to effectively exploit new capabilities, manage the large volume and variety of data available, and to be adapted easily to new technologies is a major challenge, and one that will require significant, ongoing investment,” the agency wrote.

“In addition to technological challenges in the operating environment, we faced heightened threats to our staff, facilities, and information.”

ASIO said such challenges required the diversion of resources to “ensure the security and effectiveness” of the agency’s operations.

Throughout the period, ASIO said it worked closely with Australia’s national security partner agencies, which included work to progress shared national security objectives through joint agency bodies such as the federal, state, and territory Joint Counter Terrorism Teams (JCTT), the National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC), the Jihadist Network Mapping and Targeting Unit, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

Similarly, work with international peers was maintained with over 350 partner agencies in 130 countries, ASIO explained.

The intelligence agency specifically worked with counter-terrorism prosecution in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, providing assistance and evidence on telecommunications intercepts, physical surveillance, listening, and tracking devices.

“In 2016-17, we continued to work closely with telecommunications companies regarding the security risks associated with the use of certain companies in their supply chains and risks arising from foreign ownership arrangements,” the report says.

“We provided sensitive briefings to the Australian government and the telecommunications sector to outline the threat and, where possible, recommended appropriate mitigation measures.”

ASIO said that through its work with ACSC, it regularly observed cyber espionage activity targeting Australia.

“Foreign state-sponsored adversaries targeted the networks of the Australian government, industry, and individuals to gain access to information and progress other intelligence objectives,” the agency wrote.

“ASIO provided support to the ACSC’s investigations of these harmful activities as well as the centre’s work to remediate compromised systems. The number of countries pursuing cyber espionage programs is expected to increase … as technology evolves, there will be an increase in the sophistication and complexity of attacks.”

It isn’t just foreign threats on ASIO’s radar, with the agency noting it remained alert to, and investigated threats from, malicious insiders.

“Those trusted employees and contractors who deliberately breach their duty to maintain the security of privileged information,” ASIO explained. “These investigations continued to be complex, resource-intensive, and highly sensitive.”

In-house, ASIO said it also worked to build an enterprise technology program to enable the agency to “excel in using technology and data” to achieve its purpose.

“Given the increasing opportunities and challenges brought about by rapid advances in technology, it is imperative that ASIO is a ‘data-enabled organisation’, connected to its partners, accountable to the people, innovative in its approach, and sustainable for the long term,” the report says.

From July 2018, Australia’s new Home Affairs ministry will be responsible for ASIO, Australian Federal Police, Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Austrac, and the office of transport security. It will see Attorney-General George Brandis hand over some national security responsibility to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton.

Of the ministerial changes and the recommendations of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, ASIO Director-General of Security Duncan Lewis said he believes the new measures will play an important role in strengthening the agency’s strategic direction, effectiveness, and coordination of Australia’s national security and intelligence efforts, at a time when “the nation is facing complex, long-term threats” to its security.

Henry Sapiecha

Australia’s bungling spies dialled wrong numbers and bugged wrong phones

red phone off hook image www.intelagencies.com

ASIO bugged the wrong phone line during an exercise but realised the error after seven minutes.

Australia’s secret intelligence organisations made a string of bungles during the past financial year, according to the annual report by their watchdog.

In one case, the domestic spy agency ASIO bugged the wrong phone, while other officers risked penalties for impersonating Commonwealth officers when trying to give themselves so-called “light-cover” stories to hide their real jobs.

ASIO agents handed out the wrong phone number to the targets of search warrants executed on numerous homes across Sydney last year.

Margaret Stone, former federal court judge who has delivered her first report on Australia's spy agencies as the new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security image www.intelagencies.com

Margaret Stone, former federal court judge who has delivered her first report on Australia’s spy agencies as the new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security. Photo: Tanya Ingrisciano

In separate incidents, Australia’s foreign spy agency, ASIS, sent private information about Australian citizens to foreign intelligence organisations without permission. It also spied on Australians without ministerial authorisation, had officers fire weapons they were not authorised to do and was chided about official record keeping.
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The report is the only view the public usually gets inside the secretive agencies known collectively as the Australian Intelligence Community unless there is a specific inquiry.

The annual snapshot was delivered by the new Inspector of Intelligence and Security, Margaret Stone, a former Federal Court judge. Ms Stone has replaced Dr Vivienne Thom, who has finished her five-year contact.

It shows that there were 496 complaints received across the agencies. Of those, 473 were about delays in visa-related security assessments by ASIO. The number was down slightly on the 2013-2014, when there were 504 complaints, of which 487 were related to visa-related security assessments.

Reviewing the highlights of the year, the report said the IGIS had designed and implemented new oversight programs as a result of the federal government’s national security legislative reform program, which has given the intelligence agencies new powers.

“The changes required a re-prioritisation of our work program and a comprehensive revision of existing inspection methodology to focus on the use of the new powers and higher risk activities,” the report said.

Dr Thom spoke at the International Intelligence Review Agency Conference in London in 2014 about how oversight regimes needed to be more transparent to enhance public credibility.

The annual report said that many agencies had since moved to develop outwardly-focused media strategies and explore ways of informing the public about their work. However, “the challenge of ensuring that oversight is transparent continues in Australia”, the report said.

The report revealed a target of an ASIO entry and search warrant had complained that ASIO had given the household the wrong phone number and after an investigation ASIO confirmed that an “incorrect phone number was inadvertently given to individuals at all the Sydney addresses where search warrants were executed on that date”. ASIO later corrected the error.

ASIO also bugged the wrong phone line during an exercise but realised the error after seven minutes. The report found no communications were intercepted or recorded and ASIO has established more stringent procedures and advice for staff to stop any future errors.

A major inquiry into its sister agency ASIS found it had sent intelligence information to foreign spy agencies without permission and without the application of privacy rules on seven separate occasions. It was also found to have spied on two Australians without the required ministerial authorisation.

There was also a deficiency in training for ASIS officers regarding firing of weapons in training without approvals.

“A very significant number of ASIS officers had fired weapons they were not authorised for, either once or on several occasions … indicating a widespread lack of understanding about the legal requirements.”

The report said that ASIS senior management had accepted a raft of recommendations and “demonstrated a strong commitment to reform”.

An inspection report into the so-called “light cover” used by ASIO and ASIS officers to conceal their employment identified four areas of potential concern: risk of penalties for impersonating a Commonwealth officer when using an alternative government department as their cover; court appearances; dealing with police; and obtaining private insurance policies.

Since the report ASIO has finalised its light-cover policy and both ASIO and ASIS have “sought to identify suitable life insurance options for their staff”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/wrong-number-wrong-phone-australias-bungling-spies-20151217-glqjjy.html?eid=email:nnn-13omn656-ret_newsl-membereng:nnn-04/11/2013-news_am-dom-news-nnn-smh-u&campaign_code=13INO010&et_bid=25741951&promote_channel=edmail&mbnr=MTA5MTAwMDU#ixzz3uobjFOpV
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ASIO, Crime Commission granted access to photographs of NSW citizens to aid terrorism fight

The release of photographs must abide by any protocol approved by the Privacy Commissioner image www.intelagencies.com

The release of photographs must abide by “any protocol approved by the Privacy Commissioner”. Photo: Andrew Sheargold

Australia’s peak security agency and the NSW Crime Commission have been granted virtually unfettered access to hundreds of thousands of photographs of NSW citizens to bolster their ability to investigate planned and actual terrorism acts.

The NSW government has authorised the release of photographs taken of people who are granted an extensive range of licences and permits to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the state crime commission without a warrant or court order.

They include photographs for licences and permits for firearms, to work in the security, private investigation and debt collection industries and applications to operate tattoo parlours.

But the change also applies to photographs taken for licences for tradespeople, real estate agents, contractors, pawn brokers, second hand dealers, motor dealers and repairers, strata managers and importers and exporters.

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It also allows release of photographs taken for the issuing a Photo Card – a voluntary proof of age card available to NSW residents over the age of 16 who don’t hold a driver’s licence.

The photographs are stored by the state government agency Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) but, until now, RMS has only been permitted to release drivers licence photographs to ASIO and the crime commission.

The extra access was granted by the NSW government on Friday, almost three weeks after the killing of police accountant Curtis Cheng at Parramatta by radicalised teenager Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar.

The regulation says that the photographs “or any photographic image or other matter contained in any database of such photographs” may be released to ASIO or the crime commission for “investigation of a terrorist act, or a threat of a terrorist act”.

The release of photographs must abide by “any protocol approved by the Privacy Commissioner”.

But the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said there was no need for the change.

Mr Blanks said people expected their personal information only to be used for the purposes which they agree to hand it over to the government.

“With a single stroke of a pen the government says it doesn’t matter you gave you information on that basis, we’re going to make it available on some other basis,” he said.

“The security agencies needing data in order to foil potential attacks can be done quite properly and adequately through the existing warrant system,” he said.

“That gives an independent oversight of the process and makes sure the access process is not abused.”

An RMS spokeswoman said the change was “designed to assist security agencies and law enforcement carry out their investigations” and the request “was not made in relation to any specific incident”.

“This is one of the measures the government has taken to improve security and co-operation between its agencies,” she said.

“Roads and Maritime respects and values the privacy of NSW citizens and will give access solely for the lawful purpose of assisting security agencies and law enforcement with their investigations.

“In addition, this access is not made available for commercial or marketing purposes.”

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Henry Sapiecha