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Research vulnerable to foreign interference, review finds


Australian Department of Home Affairs report says foreign intelligence services aim to recruit “disgruntled” insiders

Australia’s first annual risk report on critical infrastructure has identified research as a vulnerable area.

The Critical Infrastructure Annual Risk Review, released on 1 November by the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Centre, part of the Australian Department of Home Affairs, found that “foreign interference and espionage are principal threats to Australia’s critical infrastructure”, including “an intent to obtain critical research”.

A statement said that the use of “trusted insiders” to corrupt security systems was a “significant threat” and that “dark web” adverts were actively trying to recruit such people.

“Insiders can deliberately disclose sensitive information to third parties, manipulate systems and networks to cause harm, or be recruited by foreign intelligence services,” it said. They can be recruited using financial rewards or they could be “disgruntled” employees.

The full report said that “foreign recruitment of research, academic or other administrative personnel could result in the theft of sensitive research or other intellectual property”.

“Researchers with high-valued expertise and those working on government research and development remain an attractive target for espionage, even more so when travelling internationally for work.”

Hacking threat

The report warned of the risk of hacking of research systems: “Cyber actors will also look for weaknesses in our systems to obtain valuable sovereign research and gain insights into our social, economic or technological vulnerabilities.”

This risk is heightened because “widespread sharing of research and learning across multiple institutions and different online platforms [makes it] difficult to protect due to vulnerabilities in system security uniformity”.

“Less-than-secure” online conferencing is also a vulnerability, the report said.

Meanwhile, market pressures are making it difficult for higher education institutions to “adequately fund” their operations, the centre added.