Australia's government unveiled legislation on Wednesday to crack down on cybercrime in the wake of recent cyber attacks on multinational companies and institutions, from Google to the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Senate.
Cybercrime was a growing threat to individuals, businesses and governments, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said, with the country's giant resource industry having warned recently of near-daily hacking attempts from offshore.
The increasing cyber threat means that no nation alone can effectively overcome this problem and international cooperation is essential, McClelland said.
The laws, once passed by parliament, will give Australian police and intelligence agencies the power to force telecommunications companies to keep sensitive information that was normally stored only briefly before being destroyed.
They also aim to strengthen cooperation with overseas cybercrime agencies, giving police and security agencies better access to information stored overseas when investigating crimes locally committed using the internet.
Australia must have appropriate arrangements domestically and internationally to be in the best possible position to fight cybercrime and cyber security threats, McClelland said.
Cyber hackers have launched a series of attacks in recent weeks targeting not only U.S. lawmakers, but also global companies and institutions, from Citigroup Inc to aerospace company Lockheed Martin, forcing governments and private companies to look at strengthening defences.
Henry Kissinger, an architect of Sino-U.S. relations in the 1970s, earlier this month called for the United States and China to reach an agreement to restrict cyber attacks and designate some areas as off limits.
Australia is already developing a cyber defense strategy to combat hacking and electronic espionage, including the growing threat posed by state-sponsored cyber attacks. The blueprint strategy will be ready next year.
The country has experienced a wave of attacks on more than 4,000 businesses, including hacking attacks from offshore that bought down computer networks in the national parliament.
McClelland said the current cybercrime bills set the legislative framework for Australia to join the only binding international treaty on the problem: the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.
That would widen international cooperation and help authorities from one country collect data in an overseas jurisdiction, as well as establishing an emergency network to provide immediate help to investigators globally.
Over 40 nations have either signed or become a party to the Convention, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and South Africa.
This is an important step to increasing the powers of Australian investigators to effectively combat cybercrime with increased international cooperation, Australia's Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said.
(Editing by Ed Davies)