Australian Secretary Of Defense Not Concerned About Phone Hack; Doesn't Think People Want To Spy On His Phone

from the oh-really-now? dept

If you were the Secretary of Defense of a large country, you might think you'd be slightly concerned that foreign agents would want to spy on you. Not so down in Australia apparently, where the current Secretary of Defense, insists that he'd be "surprised" if anyone wanted to find out what was on his phone. Seriously.

We've written about the recent story, revealed in documents leaked by Ed Snowden, that the NSA and GCHQ were able to hack into the systems of Gemalto, the world's largest maker of SIM cards for mobile phones, and obtain the encryption keys used in those cards. While Gemalto insists that the hack didn't actually get those encryption keys, not everyone feels so comfortable with Gemalto's own analysis of what happened.

Senator Scott Ludlam (who we've written about a few times before) reasonably found the story of the Gemalto hack to be concerning, and went about asking some questions of the government to find out what they knew about it. The results are rather astounding. First he had asked ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, and they said it wasn't their area, but it might be ASD (the Australian Signals Directorate). The video below shows Ludlam asking the ASD folks for more information about the hack and being flabbergasted that they basically say they haven't even heard about the hack at all:
Right at the beginning, the first person says he's not aware of the situation, and Ludlam asks "are you aware of the broad outlines?" and gets a "no I am not" response, leading to a rather dry "Really?!? Okay, this is going to be interesting" reply from Ludlam. It goes on in this nature for a while, with the various people on the panel playing dumb, and Ludlam repeatedly (and rightly) appearing shocked that they appear to have no idea about the story.

But the really incredible part comes in the last minute of the video, in which Ludlam asks the Australian Secretary of Defense, Dennis Richardson, about his own concerns about his phone being spied on:
Ludlam: Do you use an encrypted phone, Mr. Richardson?

Richardson: No, I don't.

Ludlam: Right. Okay. Do you use a commercial -- I'm not asking you to name names -- but do you use a commercial telecommunications provider?

Richardson: Yeah, yeah, yes.

Ludlam: So there might be a SIM card in your phone or mind. Does this alarm you at all?

Richardson: No.

Ludlam: No?

Richardson: No.

Ludlam: Why is that?

Richardson: Well, because I don't particularly deal with people who... if anyone wants to listen to my telephone calls they can. I'd be surprised if they do, but I don't particularly have conversations which I'm particularly worried about.

[Laughter all around the room]

Ludlam: So it's okay if foreign spooks have hacked every mobile handset in the country because you don't have anything in particular...

Richardson: It's possible some might try to.

Ludlam: It's possible some just have.

Richardson: [shrugs] Well, it's possible.
So there you have it, folks. The Australian Secretary of Defense says that anyone is allowed to listen in to his calls, because there's nothing secret about any of them. I'm not quite familiar with public records/freedom of information laws in Australia, but is it possible for someone to put in a request for recording all of the Secretary of Defense's phone calls?

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    RR, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:13am

    Ignorance

    Being deliberately ignorant is a defense we've seen used over and over. Until there are repercussions, it will continue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:18am

    'Was' possible

    Ludlam: So it's okay if foreign spooks have hacked every mobile handset in the country because you don't have anything in particular...

    Richardson: It's possible some might try to.

    Ludlam: It's possible some just have.

    Richardson: [shrugs] Well, it's possible.


    If they weren't before, I'm sure they are now, a statement like that, from the Secretary of Defense... other than personally calling other government spy agencies and hacker groups, I cannot think of a quicker way to have his phone bugged and compromised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:26am

      Re: 'Was' possible

      Or it might end up like in the old days (not sure if it is still done today). When one hacker took over an infested device the first thing to do was fix all other backdoors to keep others out. Maybe the guy will have the savest phone of all soon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:20am

    How do people like Mr Richardson get that job? Or what does he do all day that he can say "I don't particularly have conversations which I'm particularly worried about."?

    Sure Australia is a member of the Five Eyes but I doubt anyone still believes the US won't spy on those countries too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:26am

    The Australian Secretary of Defense says that anyone is allowed to listen in to his calls, because there's nothing secret about any of them.

    It's worse than that. He's basically saying the problem doesn't exist because it hasn't affected him personally; and even if it had, everyone else should be okay with anyone listening to their phone calls because he's okay with someone listening to his.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Clark, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:39am

    How Long Until the Keys Get Posted on the Internet?

    So he does not get the bigger picture?

    How long do you think it will be until someone bribes a $100K/ year clerk with a few million dollars to get the key list? Or a disgruntled ex-employee posts them on the Internet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ambrellite, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:45am

    Big red flag

    When your secretary of defense makes the "I'm not important enough to be spied on" argument, he's not taking his job seriously. At all.

    I suspect his work computer contains a *lot* of porn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 8:56am

      Re: Big red flag

      I think you mean that his porn computer has some work on it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Brazilian Guy, 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:48pm

        Re: Re: Big red flag

        Meanwhile, in China Daily USA twitter feed: "Lenovo leads Chinese brand penetration into Australian market."

        Looking at the back of his laptop, seems to be a Lenovo.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:20am

      Re: Big red flag

      Well, if he's doing his job like he is supposed to be doing, then he would NEVER have any classified discussions over his cell phone. The only time anything classified is discussed would be in a secure area with other people who have both the required clearances and need to know. So the only thing that being able to listen in on his cell phone would accomplish is day to day minutiae. You may be able to predict his movements during the day, but that is about the extent of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:08pm

        Re: Re: Big red flag

        You may be able to predict his movements during the day, but that is about the extent of it.
        Good point. How could tracking and predicting the daily activities of the Secretary of Defense ever provide useful information?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 4:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: Big red flag

          Considering the security surrounding him, I highly doubt he simply goes to the store on his own. Most likely has someone else do those things. And as regards tracking his movements, that ought to be easy enough right now given that his place of work and residence are already known.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:51pm

      Re: Big red flag


      I suspect his work computer contains a *lot* of porn.


      So does mine. Does that mean I'm qualified to be our Defense Minister? Cool, I think I'd like that job.

      Where do I send the troops now that Afghanastan have show us they can play a decent game of cricket? I know! Let's pack 200 of 'em back to Iraq.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    HT (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:01am

    Advance Australia Fair

    As an Australian, I take great pride in knowing that Senator Ludlam represents us in the Senate. The problem of course is that all of these other turkeys are the ones who are members of the executive and legislature that vote on key pieces of legislation. This particular incident is just the latest in a long string of crap from the people who "run" our country.

    This isn't new stuff for Australia, in fact many of our senior ministers have professed to know nothing about what metadata collection means but will continue to toe the party line instead of abstaining. Unfortunately, the other major party in Australia (the Labor Party) seem to agree on most of these policies and have caved to political pressure. It surely isn't pressure from the public because there really is only two camps: the camp that realises what an erosion of basic liberty these laws are and those that approach them with a melancholy attitude.

    "Terrorism" is our Eurasia and Eastasia. The Government uses these faux wars to pass legislation that impedes on our right to privacy (which is very near being legitimised under Common Law if a case makes it to the High Court). Our Government is doing its best to make sure that everyone except them have to pay the price for the rhetoric and ideologies. I say the Government, but I mean almost every single member of the legislative branch and the executive.

    The Australian Government thinks that "Terrorism" is a nail that can be combated with a hammer. Unfortunately, they're wrong; is all that will be left after their proposed changes is a general state of paranoia, criminals using secure services to bypass spying, further negligence from intelligence agencies in their roles to protect the nation, and an erosion of civil rights for citizens. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely any of this will change: our political landscape is so that our centre-left parties are actually on the right and our left parties are so far on the left that swing voters and conservatives will never vote for them.

    I love being Australian, I just hate the bullshit that happens to come along with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 11:48am

      Re: Advance Australia Fair

      I love being Australian, I just hate the bullshit that happens to come along with it.

      Welcome to Techdirt. We understand; we feel the same way about our countries, most of us, most of the time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 6:32pm

      Re: Advance Australia Fair

      When your political party(s) depends on the goodwill of the press which Rupert Murdoch sets the agenda every day with his monopoly newspapers headlines which are picked up by all the other media outlets, then you find that defying News Corp put you on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse or just ignored outright.

      Case in point, Gillian Trigg, President of the Human Rights Commission, who in November last year presented the far right Federal government with a report into refugee children in detention. As it was rather scathing of the current government (& the previous one) the Murdoch attack dogs were onto to her long before the report was tabled in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. Just softening the HRC up for the fatal blow from our nutjob Prime Minister & the corrupt Attorney General who went on an all out attack to slander the independence of the HRC. Without the approval of the Kingmaker Murdoch none of this would have gone ahead. Our PM even visits Rupert in New York to get the agenda to follow for the upcoming months.
      Having read how close Murdoch is to the USA government as the willing propaganda arm for needless wars, legislation & anything else that helps out the 1%, it appears that until Rupert is pushing up daisies we won't see anything changing down under anytime soon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:23am

    Aha!

    "So there might be a SIM card in your phone or mind."

    Australian government officials have SIM cards for brains? This explains a lot...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:32am

    5 Eyes

    Since Australia is a member of the 5 Eyes consortium (mob), of course they knew about it! Why aren't these asshats in prison for conspiracy to defraud their government?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:50pm

      Re: 5 Eyes

      Because the criminals are in charge and they are not going to arrest themselves. We ignored this problem for decades now its coming home to roost.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:39am

    Probably thinks he's important, maybe thinks he's got clout, perhaps he thinks those doing the surveillance know he's got clout, maybe assumes that he's deffinately never gonna be a target (collect everything not warrant), maybe he's made a statement about something that will screw the people over for a false assumption

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

    So, he said that he doesnt discuss important things over the phone and their response was laughter and some weirdly drawn conclusion that through his phone, every single Australians phone is accessible?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:52am

    Richardson: [shrugs] Well, it's possible.

    His only concern is that they have their own surveillance state, to hell with other issues, or consequences of their own actions

    That actually sums it up pretty well, global governments taking actions and the hell with the cosequences........each new attempt assume they can handle it, while completely ignorant to the fact that history shows they were'nt the first, and in completely ignoring the lessons of history, cannot see the same road nor the same ends.......history repeats itself, in this case, the over bearing government slash empire

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:07pm

    Dear Senator Scott Ludlam

    Just because you don't say anything intelligent or important enough to be concerned about someone spying on you doesn't mean that other people don't have legitimate concerns about being spied upon.

    Yet somehow you managed to become secretary of defense? How did you do that? Does it pay well? Do you actually have to do anything? Is any knowledge required? It sounds like the easiest job in the world!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:14pm

    I'm not quite familiar with public records/freedom of information laws in Australia, but is it possible for someone to put in a request for recording all of the Secretary of Defense's phone calls?
    I know you're joking but it is interesting to note that the main Australian alphabet agencies (ASIO, ASD, ASIS etc.) are immune to FOI. That, on top of our lack of a Bill of Rights, puts us in an especially fucked position with respect to the defending ourselves from the metastasizing transnational security state. Rather than outrage over the Snowden documents slowing some of the advancement, the cockroaches in government have already successfully passed several new bills, including one that criminalizes the reporting of leaks and granting broad immunity from prosecution for ASIO. We are also about to get a warrentless data retention scheme passed into law.

    Did you think Australia was better than some of the other four eyes? We are quickly overtaking UK as being the worst.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 1:17pm

    stonewallin like a boss

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 6:10pm

    [SHRUGGING INTENSIFIES]

    >[shrugs]

    I feel like this has become the common theme after these relentless revelations. When the benefit of changing one's behavior is unknown the perceived cost is too great. Like solving climate change, this problem will likely reach crisis levels before being resolved of at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 11:23pm

    Admission of worthlessness

    If you are a secretary of defense and nobody wants to spy on your phone shut down the whole department because it and you are a worthless joke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 2:29am

      Re: Admission of worthlessness

      That. He public admitted nobody is interested in him or Australia. That Australia has no relevance in the international community. I'd be ashamed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Aussie Geoff (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:55am

    Please get the title right!

    Australia does not have a Secretary of Defense (or in Queens English Defence), we have a Minister for Defence, just like the Minister for Health, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade etc. Now he may have some secretaries works for him but I very much doubt he/she/they are called secretaries of defen(c/s)e.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 12:34pm

    If you have nothing to hide, tell me all your secrets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.