The number of serious cyber attacks against New Zealand agencies and companies has surged, new figures from the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) show.
Most attacks are aimed at government agencies, and can vary from defacing websites to more advanced efforts to gain long-term access to networks to steal information.
Una Jagose, acting director of the GCSB, was set to reveal new details about the agency's activities, including the secret Cortex cyber-security programme, at a talk on Friday.
But when protesters unfurled a banner labelling the unprecedented talk a propaganda exercise, it was called off. Ms Jagose will now release the information at a later date, but the Herald can reveal statistics that were to be included in her speech.
They show that last year the National Cyber Security Centre, a division of GCSB, recorded 147 incidents. In this year's first six months alone 132 were recorded.
"We expect that by the end of 2015 this figure will be in excess of 200," Ms Jagose said. "Of the incidents recorded so far in 2015, 79 were reported by government agencies."
Advanced attacks are becoming more common as technological progress makes them cheaper and easier.
In July, the Obama Administration admitted hackers stole the private information of about 25 million people through two hacks at the US Government's human resources agency. James Clapper, US director of national intelligence, said China was the "leading suspect".
Asked about the origin of attacks on New Zealand, Ms Jagose said that each month the GCSB and "our international cyber-security partners" identified about 900 new signatures. "Where possible [they] are used to help identify the source of the threat."
Ms Jagose was to tell the audience at the National Library in Wellington details of some of the recent cyber attacks, and attempts to combat them.
"I was going to talk a lot more than we have ever talked about before in public about our cyber-security programme, called the Cortex programme — how we look at the privacy interests related to that programme, how it works, how it is controlled, what it is. Stuff that we have never said before," she said.
Cortex is a cyber shield designed to protect government agencies and other organisations, such as power companies, from cyber attacks.
Its existence was first revealed by Prime Minister John Key before last year's election, ahead of Kim Dotcom's "moment of truth" event in Auckland and in response to claims New Zealand had tapped the Southern Cross cable network.
What organisations are protected by Cortex is secret, but significant economic targets and vital network utilities are likely to be included.
Dr Joe Burton, a lecturer in international relations at Victoria University, with a focus on cyber security, said our intelligence agencies had previously reported being subject to cyber intrusions by foreign intelligence agencies.
What is a cyber attack?
• An attack against a computer or network to harm the confidentiality, integrity or availability of network data or systems.
• They include attempts to gain unauthorised access to a computer system and its information, denial of service attacks, and changes to hardware or software without the knowledge of the owner.
• Techniques vary, and include flooding a network with traffic in order to make it unavailable to users, and striking with electronic jammers or virus attacks. Hackers can be working on behalf of a foreign government (cyberwarfare).