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Espionage is the theft of Australian information or capabilities with the intent of providing that information or capability to another country.

Such activity may threaten Australia’s national security or provide a political, commercial or economic advantage to another country.

Espionage activities can be directed against Australian governments, Defence, politics, industry, foreign relations or commerce; or other information or objects that are otherwise unavailable to a foreign nation.

The growth in the number of Australians working from home during the global COVID-19 pandemic has increased Australia’s exposure to a range of hostile actors in cyberspace. As businesses move to remote access options for employees working from home, motivated state and non-state malicious cyber actors may attempt to take advantage. ASIO advice, shared with academic and corporate sectors through our Outreach program, plays an important role in helping to mitigate the cyber security risks associated with Australia’s increased online presence and remote working arrangements.

FIS are seeking to recruit Australians online through social media platforms— taking advantage of the low cost and ease of disguising their approach to their targets. Many of the attributes that make social media so valuable also make it vulnerable; as a result, FIS are seeking to take advantage of these targeting opportunities.

Australians overseas are also targeted by FIS for their current or future potential to undertake espionage and foreign interference activities on behalf of FIS.

In some instances, FIS approach Australians through professional networking sites, seeking non-public or sensitive information under the guise of representing think tanks and recruitment agencies. FIS also entice Australians to travel overseas where they are more vulnerable—FIS use their home ground advantage to cultivate and recruit Australians for espionage or foreign interference activities.

Foreign interference

Foreign interference

Foreign interference is detrimental to Australia’s values, interests and security.

Unlike legitimate ‘soft power’ lobbying or diplomatic activity, foreign interference involves covert, deceptive or threatening actions on behalf of, in collaboration with, or directed by a foreign principal.

ASIO has identified foreign state actors and their proxies persistently seeking to develop relationships with Australian Government political figures, academia, commercial interests and individuals, in pursuit of objectives detrimental to Australian interests.

These activities are unacceptable.

ASIO works across government to harden Australia’s critical infrastructure against harm from FIS—particularly FIS efforts that target critical infrastructure, sensitive and sizeable Australian data sets, and emerging technology.

Australia’s telecommunications sector is an attractive target, and its security is of utmost importance. It underpins Australia’s critical infrastructure and way of life. Access or disruption to the sector provides opportunities for Australia’s adversaries to conduct activities which threaten Australia’s national security.

ASIO plays an important role in helping to mitigate the risk that foreign investment may pose to Australia’s security, including by providing advice to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). Foreign investment continues to play a vital role in Australia’s economic success, stability and prosperity, and fully assessing any associated national security concerns benefits both the investor and Australia.