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Australia demands Russia crack down on cyber criminals

Illustration shows laptop with binary code on the screen in front of Russian flag

By Alasdair Pal and Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) - One of Australia's top government bureaucrats on Wednesday demanded Russia crack down on the large number of cyber criminals operating in the country, saying their actions posed a threat to national security.

The comments come as Canberra reforms its cybersecurity policy following a raft of cyber attacks on some of the country's largest companies.

"The greatest density of cyber criminals, particularly those with ransomware, are in Russia," Michael Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, told the AFR Business Summit in Sydney.

"They are not a rule of law country and the thought that you can apply conventional law enforcement disciplines ... is completely naive.

"We call on the Russian government to bring those hackers to heel."

A spokesperson for the Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Australian government last month said it planned to overhaul its cybersecurity rules as well as set up an agency in Pezzullo's department to coordinate government investment in the field and help coordinate responses to hacker attacks.

The move follows a rise in cyber attacks since late last year with breaches reported by at least eight companies, including health insurer Medibank Private Ltd and telco Optus, owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.

An attack on critical technology infrastructure was one of the greatest threats to Australian national security, Pezzullo said.

"A cyber attack could actually come unattributed...it could be a criminal act or it could be a proxy actor working with or on behalf of a state, or it could be a state," he said.

"The blurring and the ambiguity that it generates is a challenge just for policy, let alone regulation."

The United States and Britain sanctioned several Russians accused of cyber attacks last month, saying ransomware attacks have paralysed businesses, schools and hospitals.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)