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”Electronic intelligence gathering is now a huge industry,” Mr Irvine said. ”It is being used against Australia on a massive scale to extract confidential information from governments, the private sector and ordinary individuals.”

He hinted that Australia is often targeted by foreign spies as an easy access point into the intelligence holdings of the US and Britain. Describing the security threat posed by cyber as ”pervasive and insidious” he continued: ”Worse, our own territory can be used to surreptitiously penetrate the cyber defences of our friends and allies.”

Canberra has long been seen as the soft underbelly of the Western intelligence club - the alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the US - and foreign nations are known to target Australia in order to steal our allies’ intelligence.