Operation Orcus Task Force Established To Fight Ransomware Gangs


By Staff Writer

Multiple government agencies are joining forces, creating a new task force to fight cybercrime. Dubbed Operation Orcus, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) will lead a coalition of agencies, including Austrac, state and territory police agencies, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), industry, and other government partners to combat the ransomware gang threat.

“Time’s up for the organised criminals who prey on our schools, hospitals, businesses and private citizens with this despicable technology,” said Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews in a statement.

Operating from ACSC headquarters in Canberra, Operation Orcus will see AFP personnel tasked to fight cybercrime increase from 13 to 35.

In the sights of Operation Orcus are criminal gangs estimated to have cost the Australian economy $1.4 billion in 2020. In the 12 months to April 30, 459 government and non-government organisations in Australia were targeted by ransomware gangs. The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) says that is a 60% year on year increase.

The Home Affairs Minister says the Australian Government has handed the AFP approximately $90 million to expand its cybercrime fighting capabilities as part of the Government Cyber Security Strategy.

“This strong action should come as no surprise. I’ve said ­consistently that increasing cybersecurity and cracking down on ­cybercrime are my top priorities,” the minister said.

Operation Orcus will seek to collect intelligence and run defensive cyber operations to disrupt the operations of offshore ransomware gangs.

The news comes as Australia joined the United States and other nations to call out China for facilitating ransomware attacks on western targets.

“Ransomware has been the fastest-growing malicious cyber activity over the last 12 months,” said Australia’s Cyber Security Industry Advisory Committee Chairperson Andy Penn last week.

“More abundant and better-resourced cybercriminals, cyber activists, and increasingly emboldened nation-state actors mean that Australia is under constant cyberattack.”

The increase in ransomware attacks is now capturing the attention of corporate Australia. However, developing and maintaining an appropriate level of cyber maturity is expensive. But Shane Bell, Head of Cyber at advisory firm McGrathNicol, thinks the expense is worth it given the average cost of a cyberattack on Australian businesses is around $5 million.

“It’s more about what is the cost of not being as resilient to an attack as the company could be,” Bell says.

The Federal Opposition supports the Australian Government’s move to fight cybercrime. But shadow cybersecurity minister Tim Watts argues the government has been slow to move on ransomware gangs.

“To date, these ransomware crews have been able to target Australian organisations with impunity,” Mr Watts says. “No wonder we’ve seen these attacks increasing in their scale and frequency. It’s time that we said enough is enough. It’s time to release the hounds on these ransomware crews,”

But Andy Penn praises the Australian Government for proactively stepping up to combat cybercrime and ransomware gangs.

“The Australian Government deserves real credit for the leadership it has shown,” says Penn referring to the government’s cybersecurity stance. He says progress is being made and a solid cybersecurity framework established. Operation Orcus continues that progress.