Friday, February 20, 2015

Australia susceptible to cyber terrorist attacks

Australia remains susceptible to the threat of cyber terrorist attacks, according to the head of the country's first ever Cyber Security Centre.

Australia's inaugural cyber security coordinator, Stephen Day, revealed that as terrorist organizations become more tech-savvy, the risk of a cyber attack on the country becomes more likely, reported Xinhua.

Although Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a review of Australia's cyber security strategy, a move that Day described as "sensible", he did suggest that more still needs to be done to make citizens aware of the risks of online crime.

"We are in an arm-wrestle between those who are trying to defend and those who are trying to get around us and at the moment, because there is a general lack of awareness, those who would do us harm are at an advantage," he told News Ltd. "But we are going to catch them."

The last significant cyber terrorist attack occurred in August 2013, when the web sites of media companies such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Twitter were allegedly hacked by a Syrian group known as the "Syrian Electronic Army".

During that specific attack, users who clicked onto those respective web sites were redirected to a server controlled by the Syrian group.

According to Day, the Australian government is at risk of similar attacks if it does not improve its online security.

"Some terrorist groups are very well resourced and it is an absolute possibility that they could create significant troubles for national security or economic prosperity," he said.

"We have been working for some years now on improving the defences of the government, but there is a lot of work to be done, there is no doubt about that."

Day also revealed that Australia is at a specific risk of foreign espionage, particularly from industries, rather than international governments.

"There is a troubling increase in nation states stealing intellectual property from not only government, but also from industry," Day said.

"I don't know if all countries are doing it, but an increasing number of nation states are playing in this space.

"The risk has always been there, espionage has been around for a long time ... but the level of activity going into the stealing of intellectual property from big corporations is at a greater level than we have seen before."


Bureaucrat gets a roasting over Hep A in berries

Today show host Karl Stefanovic has accused the head of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) of trying to dodge responsibility for the hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen berries.

In a tense interview on Thursday morning, Stefanovic told FSANZ chief Steve McCutcheon he had 'seriously dropped the ball' for failing to strengthen food safety checks in Australia after similar outbreaks overseas of hepatitis A overseas.

The Today host asked Mr McCutcheon 'Do you feel responsible?' over the scandal, which has so far seen 13 cases of hepatitis A in Australia linked to berries imported from China, with more expected to be confirmed in coming weeks.

'Well the system as a whole is responsible for ensuring the safety is there, so everyone within that system - be it government, be it industry - has a role to play in delivering safe food to Australian consumers,' Mr McCutcheon replied.

'As I said, we've got a very good system in this country.'

Stefanovic retorted: 'Well, according to you it might be a good system.'

He then asked what changes had been made to improve screening of frozen berries since the hepatitis A scare was revealed and product recalls had been issued for Nanna's and Creative Gourmet berries.

'Often people say testing should be increased. I think it's widely understood that in the case of testing for viruses in food it's a very difficult thing to do.'

Stefanovic interrupted him and accused Mr McCutcheon of dodging the question.

'Here's the thing though, and you're well-versed in answering these kinds of questions and layering it and also fobbing off some of the responsibility,' Stefanovic said.

'Despite outbreaks of hepatitis A across the world as a result of contaminated frozen berries you didn't consider them high risk at any point.'

Mr McCutcheon said: 'Well, berries themselves are not what we would consider a high-risk food… but there are a range of things that contribute to safety and clearly some products such as meat and cheese...'

The Food Standards boss was again interrupted by Stefanovic.

'But you're not answering the question Steve, you're not answering the question,' he said.

'There were outbreaks overseas. Steve, I'm sorry to keep interrupting you but there were hepatitis A outbreaks overseas and you still didn't consider them high risk.

'And now we have literally dozens of people with hepatitis A in this country.'

Mr McCutcheon said FSANZ had looked at similar outbreaks in North America and found that there was no need to impose new safety measures in Australia.

Later in the interview Stefanovic said: 'It happened again and it's happened in Australia now.

'Despite it happening in North America you were confident that the systems were all checked and fixed and yet it happened again, you have seriously dropped the ball.

'How can you even sit here this morning on our show and guarantee that the supply of these things is going to be fixed now when you know it hasn't been fixed, when this is just a repeat of what happened in North America? You can't guarantee it.'

At the end of the tense interview, Stefanovic apologised for repeatedly cutting Mr McCutcheon off.

It has emerged that thousands of children are being monitored for hepatitis A symptoms after the now-recalled berries were served at schools and childcare centres around Australia.

Students at 34 Victorian schools, nine South Australian primary schools and child care centres and three Queensland schools may have consumed the diseased berries, The Australian reported.

Berry eaters face up to seven more weeks of uncertainty to see if they have hepatitis A.

Australia's chief medical officer Chris Baggoley estimates one in 100 people who ate the contaminated, imported frozen berries will contract the disease.

But the extent to which they're affected could vary from showing no symptoms to being ill for several weeks.

The average incubation period for hepatitis A is four weeks but it could take as long as seven weeks to show up.

'If someone has consumed the berries and they are well, seven weeks after that consumption they'll certainly be fine,' Professor Baggoley told reporters in Canberra.

By Wednesday afternoon, 13 people in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia had the virus after eating the Nanna's and Creative Gourmet brands of imported frozen mixed berries.

Parent company Patties Foods has recalled four products.

WA health authorities expect to see more hepatitis A infections after the state's first case was confirmed on Wednesday.

Three Wests Tigers NRL players are reportedly having tests after eating the fruit.

WA communicable disease control director Paul Armstrong said there was no need for people who ate the berries and remained well to be tested.

Professor Baggoley said a definitive link between all the cases should be confirmed via special blood tests later this week.


Too expensive, not enough supply and too much regulation: Why you CAN'T buy Australian-grown frozen berries... and it's not about to change

Consumers wanting to make the switch to Australian grown and packed frozen berries in the wake of a Hepatitis A contamination scandal will struggle to find any on the market.

On Wednesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce urged shoppers to buy Australian produce following the recall of Chinese-grown frozen berries linked to at least 13 cases of the disease across Australia.

But Australian frozen berry suppliers say they can't get local farmers to supply berries for freezing because they can't compete with overseas importers on price.

Avrom Gamaroff, director of frozen berry supplier Harvestime Australia, said he is forced to import berries from places such as the U.S., Canada and Europe.

'We would love to buy locally, if there were guys in Australia who had commercial quantities of berries we would love to support them,' Mr Gamaroff said.  'But farmers are not prepared to make the investment because they cannot compete.

'We've had to go offshore as much as we would prefer not to, and we've gone to Canada or the U.S. where they've got comparable, if not better, regulatory services.'

Mr Gamaroff said the Harvestime 1kg Mixed Berry pack, which contains berries from Europe and sells for $7.90, would have to be sold at almost double the price if the berries were sourced in Australia.

He said the company could afford to bring the price down to $5.50-$6 if they used berries from China.

Mr Gamaroff said he had seen 'isolated lots' for Australian-grown frozen berries on the market.  'But I have not seen a continuous supply of Australian-grown frozen berries,' he said.

'It all goes back to the fact the farmers don't want to freeze their product because it becomes a commodity and then they have to go up against global supply.'

Australian Blueberry Growers Association president Greg McCulloch, who owns a farm south of Hobart, said Australian-grown berries were mainly used to supply the fresh fruit market.

'Basically we don't have to compete with imports in the frozen berry product because we actually don't produce enough to fill the market,' Mr McCulloch said.  'But even if we did we could never ever match the prices they bring the stuff in for.'

In the wake of the Hepatitis A scandal, Mr McCulloch criticised the Australian government for reacting to the problem too late.

'It happened last year – an outbreak in Scandinavia, same product, frozen berries - no one did anything about it as usual,' he said.

'We can't do anything to upset China – it's OK if we don't upset them but poison our own people.  'That's the attitude.'

Mr McCulloch added that local farmers had to deal with a number of regulatory issues across local and state governments, as well as strict industry compliance measures.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the government is considering toughening up import screening procedures following the food contamination scare.

Companies also have to lift their game, Mr Abbott says, after numerous people who had eaten imported frozen berries tested positive to hepatitis A.  'The bottom line is that companies shouldn't be poisoning their customers,' the prime minister told ABC radio on Wednesday.  'Businesses have an obligation to their customers.'

However Mr Abbott was cool on calls for changes to labelling following the recall of the Chinese-grown berries.

More red-tape and regulation of the private sector could lead to soaring food costs, he said. 'We want safe products but we want safe products at a fair price. Some price is worth paying, but it's got to be a careful balancing act.'

Mr Abbott said he had to respect consumers' 'financial health as well as other aspects of their health'.

Farmers have called for an overhaul of labelling to help people identify Australian grown and packaged food.

On Wednesday morning, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the safest food was 'domestic food'.  'That is why you pay a premium for Australian product. It is clean, green and healthy,' he said.

On Tuesday, Victorian company Patties Foods extended its national recall to include Nanna's Raspberries 1kg packs.  Raspberries appear to be a potential common link in the imported fruit contamination that has left 10 Australians diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Mr Joyce said health ministers were considering an import review.  'All the health ministers are now basically getting together and if they want to review it, and move the level of screening up ... we are only too happy to test,' he said.

He also backed stricter screening and labelling for imported food, saying labels were needed 'that clearly identifies unambiguously, as soon as you pick up a package, whether it is from our country with our strong ... sanitary requirements'.

'That is making sure that faecal contamination, which is a very polite word for poo, is not anywhere near your food, not going to be put in your mouth,' he added.

Other products on the nationwide recall list are Nanna's Frozen Mixed Berries 1kg packs, and 300g and 500g packs of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries.


Abbott government senators prepared to cross floor for free speech

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is facing a rebellion in the Senate, with up to half a dozen of his own senators indicating they could cross the floor in favour of changing race hate laws.

In a sign of Mr Abbott's diminishing authority, West Australian senator Chris Back and Queensland Liberal National Party senator Ian Macdonald have told Fairfax Media they will vote in favour of a bill designed to water down the Racial Discrimination Act.

South Australian senator Sean Edwards has given a strong indication he could join them, arguing the act in its current form suppresses free speech.

Mr Abbott pledged before the 2013 election to repeal section 18C of the act after conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the act for his articles about "fair-skinned" Aboriginal people. But the Prime Minister abandoned his pledge last year after a fierce backlash from religious leaders and many Liberal MPs.

This week, Parliament's bipartisan human rights committee found changes to the act would not contravene Australia's international obligations.

Family First senator Bob Day has now proposed removing the words "insult" and "offend" from the act, meaning it would no longer be a prosecutable offence to insult or offend someone based on their race.

Liberal senators Cory Bernardi and Dean Smith have previously pledged their support and have co-sponsored Senator Day's bill. It is also being co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm.

Supporters for the change renewed their push in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, in defiance of Mr Abbott's decision.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds has called for a review of the government's approach to section 18C, saying current laws have overreached.

Senator Reynolds said the Paris attack and the Lindt cafe siege in Sydney had confirmed the threat the West faces from extremists trying to undermine democratic values, including free speech.

"I do not believe in Australia we are Charlie," Senator Reynolds said, a reference to the #JeSuisCharlie campaign that went viral in support of free speech.

"Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is a key contributor to this.

"I believe the Australian community must rediscover a way to accept hearing things we do not personally believe in. I don't believe insulting or offending someone should give rise to legal liability and it is my personal view that these laws have overreached and require amendment."

But the West Australian cautioned against rushing any change and called on the government to review its position on Senator Day's bill.

Fairfax Media has contacted every government backbencher in the Senate to sound out their view. Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie will consider her position once a vote is imminent. Senators John Williams and Zed Seselja did not have a position. Senators James McGrath, Bill Heffernan, David Johnston and Matt Canavan did not return calls, while Arthur Sinodinos will vote along government lines.

There is a strong possibility more government backbenchers will cross the floor to support Senator Day's bill.

Frontbenchers are unlikely to cross the floor because they would have to give up their positions. Deputy Whip Anne Ruston said she accepted the Prime Minister's decision to abandon repealing section 18C but believed it could be revisited "when national security is not at such a heightened state".

Labor opposes any changes to the Racial Discrimination Act or section 18C, which was introduced by the Keating government in 1995. The opposition's position means Senator Day's bill will almost certainly fail and make any government senators' support purely symbolic.

Changing the act is regarded as a totemic issue for conservative Liberals. The matter is expected to be raised in upcoming Liberal preselections for Senate seats in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

 A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said the government would not revive plans to amend the act.

"As the Prime Minister has indicated, changes to section 18C are off the table," the spokesman said.


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