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Defence's Joint Strike Fighter Team Caught Unaware By "Alf" Hacker Speech

A public presentation by an Australian Signals Directorate official about a hack on a contractor – which made global news – came as a surprise to the Defence Department.

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The Australian Department of Defence was unaware that an Australian Signals Directorate staff member would be giving a presentation revealing explosive details of a hacker the government had named after a character in Home and Away, documents obtained by BuzzFeed News have revealed.

In October, Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) incident manager Mitchell Clarke gave a presentation at a cybersecurity conference in Sydney where he revealed that a hacker the ASD had codenamed "Alf" — after the iconic Home and Away character — had infiltrated a Defence Department subcontractor's network and managed to steal about 30GB of data, including ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) data.

"That ITAR data included information on the JSF – the joint strike fighter; the C130; the P-8 Poseidon; the JDAM – that's a smart bomb – and a few Australian naval vessels," he said, "to the point where we found one document where it was a diagram of one of the navy's new ships, and you could zoom in down to the captain's chair and see it is one metre away from the nav chair."

Technology news site ZDNet was the first to report the presentation, and freelance journalist Stilgherrian appeared to be the only person to record it.

ASD found the remote shell China Chopper, and were lucky to find a memory artefact. #AISACON17

Other media outlets picked up the story, and Stilgherrian shared his recording with reporters covering the presentation.

Defence, it seems, was also not aware of what Clarke would be saying in his talk.

According to emails sent by the Defence media team the day after Clarke's presentation — obtained by BuzzFeed News under freedom of information law — the joint strike fighter division was not aware that Clarke would be revealing that data about the $17 billion program.

"Do you know whether anyone recorded old mate from ASD's presentation yesterday? Our [joint strike fighter division] are seeking information urgently," an email from a senior media and communications department adviser wrote.

Nick Stewart, a public affairs officer in the Defence Department, said in response to the email that there was no audio or video of the presentation.

On the day the news broke, the department dealt with inquiries about the leaked presentation from niche defence industry publications, tech media, Australian news outlets, and the Wall Street Journal.

As BuzzFeed News reported at the time, the department rushed to point out that while the contractor held data that was "commercially sensitive, it was unclassified".

The contractor involved has not been named in the media.

A spokesperson for the Defence Department said Clarke had the approval of the director of ASD to deliver the presentation, but did not respond specifically on whether others in the department were made aware of his speech.

Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

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