Australian government says it is hacking criminals who are exploiting the pandemic

It is perhaps the furthest a government has gone publicly in pledging to combat criminals through cyber-operations during the health crisis.
Linda Reynolds, Australian minister of defense
Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds. (Australian Embassy Jakarta / Flickr)

As governments around the world consider their options for cracking down on scammers exploiting the coronavirus pandemic, Australia is touting a muscular approach in cyberspace.

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) “has mobilized its offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt foreign cyber criminals responsible for a spate of malicious activities during COVID-19,” the Australian defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The ASD, the country’s lead agency for hacking operations, has “already successfully disrupted activities from foreign criminals by disabling their infrastructure and blocking their access to stolen information,” Australian Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds said. “Some of these cybercriminals have even posed as health officials in an attempt to exploit vulnerable Australians, by infecting their computers with malware and stealing their private information.”

COVID-19-related scams and phishing attempts targeting people around the world have surged in recent weeks as criminals and spies prey on people’s health fears. In Australia, a consumer protection agency warned people that crooks were cold-calling people to try to steal their personal information.


The Australian statement is perhaps the furthest a government has gone publicly in pledging to combat criminals through cyber-operations during the health crisis. For its part, the U.S. Department of Justice has vowed to prioritize prosecuting cybercriminals who are exploiting the crisis.

The Australian government has previously not been shy about advertising its hacking capabilities. The ASD has talked extensively about its campaign to disrupt Islamic State militants through cyberattacks.

ASD’s statement on Tuesday was another opportunity for Canberra to put its digital adversaries on notice.

“Our offensive cyber campaign has only just begun and we will continue to strike back at these cyber criminals operating offshore as they attempt to steal money and data from Australians,”  ASD Director-General Rachel Noble said.

Sean Lyngaas

Written by Sean Lyngaas

Sean Lyngaas is CyberScoop’s Senior Reporter covering the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. He was previously a freelance journalist in West Africa, where he covered everything from a presidential election in Ghana to military mutinies in Ivory Coast for The New York Times. Lyngaas’ reporting also has appeared in The Washington Post, The Economist and the BBC, among other outlets. His investigation of cybersecurity issues in the nuclear sector, backed by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, won plaudits from industrial security experts. He was previously a reporter with Federal Computer Week and, before that, with Smart Grid Today. Sean earned a B.A. in public policy from Duke University and an M.A. in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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