Australian departments at risk of Snowden-style leak
Many Australian government departments are at serious risk of loss of sensitive data due to failing to conduct ongoing insider threat assessments, according to the former leader of the Edward Snowden counterintelligence damage assessment team.
Senior US counterintelligence advisor Keith Lowry, a Nuix executive, is visiting Australia this week briefing senior government security, intelligence and business representatives on the dangers posed by insider threats.
While departments have strict vetting processes for new staff and contractors, failing to conduct ongoing assessments is a major security risk, Lowry said. He believes that nearly no spies or insiders are being caught using background checks.
“Governments need to understand insider threats are about tomorrow, not yesterday,” he said.
“It is one thing to vet personnel, but background investigations and security checks only verify past behaviours and activities — they are absolutely useless in predicting future behaviours.”
He noted that Snowden, Chelsea Manning and recently arrested former US NSA contractor Harold Martin would all have passed background checks and other screening methods.
“But in the end, they and others all made choices after being screened to do the wrong thing. Regardless of their intentions, in the end, they each took data that did not belong to them,” he said.
In his role as senior vice president of NuixUSG, Lowry is helping lead briefings that also involve Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Cybersecurity Alastair MacGibbon, former ASIO head David Irvine and Nuix CEO Eddie Sheehy.
Sheehy said countering insider threats requires treating the issue as a people problem rather than a technical problem.
“Employees and contractors who jeopardise the protection of critical data, either with intent or not, represent one of the greatest cybersecurity threats to government and corporate organisations,” he said.
“When the threat is understood from a people perspective, organisations can start to build effective counter insider threat strategies to help them respond quickly to serious data breaches. That’s why leaders need to create a culture of data security across their organisation so everyone is aware of the risks and responsibilities they have to protect important data.”
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