Military IT technician breached classified networks

An Australian military staffer breached two classified computer networks while he was deployed in the Middle East, prying into email and other private information.

The senior IT technician misused his access privileges to get into the email accounts of 10 members of his unit, as well as a personal drive.

He also accessed the deployed Defence secret network and the Defence restricted network several times without authority.

He faced a military trial but, due to a legal technicality, was acquitted of 14 charges. He was, however, convicted of nine acts of unauthorised access and two offences of prejudicial conduct, for which he was reprimanded.

The Defence Department said the incident neither breached national security nor endangered Australian troops.

“No information was lost or passed to outside sources and there were no breaches that threatened or damaged Australia’s national security or reputation,” it said in a statement.

At trial, the allegations centred on whether “network roaming” was explicitly forbidden on the restricted networks that the technician had accessed.

The judge advocate ruled that the policy documents that outlined the ban applied only to strategic networks, and not specifically to the deployed networks used in Middle East operations.

Unlike civilian courts, courts martial do not publish the identity of military offenders.

Defence also declined to provide more information about the punishments, citing privacy laws.

“The [Australian Defence Force] cannot divulge any personal information regarding members, including information about disciplinary or administrative actions taken against ADF personnel.”

The problem at the trial with the policy documents forced the military to abort three other prosecutions for similar alleged misconduct by deployed ADF members.

Those three matters were instead referred to senior commanders to consider administrative action.

The Director of Military Prosecutions, Jennifer Woodward, CSC, said in a report that her office had received an increase in the number of referrals involving misuse of IT systems.

She said her office and other stakeholders were carrying out “significant work” in this area, “which may mean that the difficulties in future prosecutions are reduced”.

Brigadier Woodward also said she would “carefully scrutinise” future decisions to prosecute IT-related offences.

“The resource burden associated with gathering sufficient evidence to prove [IT] related offences to the criminal standard is often disproportionate to the likely outcome of any criminal proceedings,” she wrote.

“Administrative processes, in some cases, may be a more efficient means of resolving alleged misconduct.”

Her report also said a lack of technical IT investigative capability and ambiguous guidelines had inhibited prosecutions.

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