I am pleased to present the 2019–20 Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Annual Report.
ASD defends Australia from global threats, and advances the national interest through the provision of foreign signals intelligence, cyber security and offensive cyber operations, as directed by Government. Throughout 2019–20, ASD continued this critical work with success.
ASD’s operating environment has remained complex and challenging during this reporting period, with Australia facing rising threats to national security, economic prosperity and social wellbeing from foreign interference, espionage and cybercrime – with impacts sharpened as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic.
ASD's foreign signals intelligence operations support a range of activities that protect the lives of Australians. These include providing support to Australian Defence Force operations across the globe, tracking the foreign communications of extremists who pose a threat to Australians and Australia's interests, and supporting the safe release of Australians who have been taken hostage overseas.
In an environment where technology plays an increasing role in the daily lives of Australians, our cyber security functions continue to be critical in supporting national security and prosperity. Throughout 2019–20, Australia was targeted by a range of actors who conducted persistent cyber operations that posed significant threats to Australia. The most concerning activity involves the sustained targeting of all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers, and operators of other critical infrastructure by a sophisticated state‑based actor, as publicly announced by the Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Defence on 19 June 2020.
Cybercrime continued to be a pervasive and endemic threat to Australia's economic and social prosperity throughout 2019–20. Cyber criminals follow the money. Australia’s relative wealth, high levels of online connectivity and increasing delivery of services through online channels make it a very attractive and profitable target for cybercriminals.
Throughout 2019–20, ASD's Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has remained focused on emerging cyber threats, including those to critical infrastructure and technologies, cloud computing and small and medium-sized enterprises. The COVID‑19 pandemic saw an increase in the operational tempo for the ACSC, with an increase in government and public need for cyber security advice and support tailored to meet the challenges of the threat environment.
A key priority for ASD during 2019–20 has been to continue its engagement with various parliamentary and other oversight bodies, including the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security; Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade; and Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit; as well as the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and the Auditor-General – all of which provide assurance to the Australian public that ASD furthers the national interest while following the letter and spirit of the law. ASD continued efforts for providing greater transparency of its activities with the public release of its inaugural Report to Parliament on the Commonwealth’s Cyber Security Posture.
To support our analysts in an increasingly complex operating environment, ASD revised its technical and analytical foundations underpinning its cyber and signals intelligence capability. ASD has focused on analyst training and careers, analytic governance, modernisation of signals intelligence and cyber systems, and best practice capability development. ASD has defined a programme of work to continue its uplift efforts over the coming years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact across the breadth of the Australian Government, and ASD was no exception. In response, ASD implemented a series of business continuity plans to mitigate the effect of COVID-19, ensuring that ASD’s most critical functions continued to operate. The outcomes of this can be seen in the success of the ACSC in responding to the increased operational tempo and our ability to continue to deliver to Government against our other core activities.
Critical to this achievement was the safety of ASD’s staff. A large portion of the workforce has adopted working from home arrangements to reduce the number of individuals in the workplace. This approach minimised contact among staff, while ensuring that ASD's critical functions continued largely uninterrupted during the pandemic.
An organisation is only as good as its people and the ASD senior management team is fortunate to lead a group of talented, dedicated people with diverse skills willing to overcome challenges in support of Australia's interests. In support of its staff, in 2019–20, ASD publicly released its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which aims to recognise that diversity delivers a richness of talent and inclusiveness that empowers all to excel.
I would like to finish by thanking the staff of ASD for their hard work and dedication over this extraordinary year. ASD is a world-class intelligence and cyber security agency because of the talented, inventive and diverse people that make up the organisation.
Rachel Noble PSM
Australian Signals Directorate