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New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau expands cyber defence service

New Zealand’s Minister Responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Hon Andrew Little, has recently announced that the agency will expand its Malware-Free Networks (MFN) cyber defence initiative.

According to Minister Little, we live in an increasingly global and connected world in which reckless and malicious cyber activity poses a threat to our digital information and our economic wellbeing. To further help address this threat, GCSB will offer its Malware-Free Networks cyber threat detection and disruption service to a broad cross section of New Zealand’s organisations of national significance.

Malware-Free Networks (MFN) is a cyber threat detection and disruption service offered to a broad range of New Zealand’s nationally significant organisations. The MFN service builds on the malware detection capability provided by network operators (Internet Service Providers). It involves GCSB sharing cyber threat information and technology with consenting organisations.

The decision to expand Malware-Free Networks follows a successful pilot with Vodafone and a small subgroup of Vodafone’s consenting customers. The pilot showed the Malware-Free Networks capability has the potential to disrupt a significant volume of malicious cyber activity. 

According to Minister Little, the GCSB already provides its CORTEX advanced cyber defence capabilities to a broad range of nationally significant organisations. Malware-Free Networks will be an additional service, providing an extra layer of protection to many more organisations.

CORTEX is a suite of capabilities that counters cyber threats to organisations of national significance, such as operators of critical national infrastructure. It has a particular focus on countering foreign-sourced malware that is particularly advanced in terms of technical sophistication and/or persistence. The focus on foreign-sourced malware is due to the fact that this type of malware is adequately mitigated by commercially-available tools.

“Expanding this service will significantly increase the range of organisations receiving the cyber defence services Government offers New Zealand’s organisations of national significance through the GCSB,” he added.

Organisations of national significance were identified through a process led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They include Government departments, key economic generators, niche exporters, research institutions and critical national infrastructure.

The next step is for the GCSB to develop a plan on how it can work with telecommunications network operators to deliver the expanded service which is expected to take a couple of months.

The cost of the Malware-Free Networks expansion will be paid for out of the GCSB’s baseline. As with other GCSB cyber security capabilities, the Malware-Free Networks service is only provided to organisations who consent to receiving it.

Minister Little also shared that over the next two years, he expects a substantial number of New Zealand’s nationally significant organisations will have engaged with the GCSB on Malware-Free Networks.

The GCSB has an Information Assurance (IA) role, designed to protect sensitive New Zealand government information from unauthorised disclosure and enable departments to communicate securely; and help nationally significant organisations defend their information systems against cyber-borne threats and malicious attacks.

It also helps government and private sector organisations of national significance to keep their information systems and communications secure, through the following services:

(1)    Providing advanced cyber threat detection and disruption (CORTEX) capability to protect nationally significant information and networks against online attacks.

(2)    A Malware-Free Networks cyber threat detection and disruption service.

(3)    Responding to incidents and helping with mitigation and prevention.

(4)    Conducting cyber threat analysis.

(5)    Providing advice and high-grade encryption hardware to protect government information.

(6)    Ensuring classified facilities are free from interception devices or other information security vulnerabilities.

(7)    Providing information security standards and guidance.

(8)    Assessing outer space and high-altitude activity and proposed changes to national telecommunications networks for risks to national security.

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