Australia reveals cyber-terrorism unit focusing on fraud and money laundering
Hacker stealing data (Shutterstock)

Australia has set up a cyber-intelligence unit to identify terrorism financing, money laundering and financial fraud online, the government said on Tuesday, because of "unprecedented" threats to national security.

The measure expands on a major platform of conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who narrowly won re-election last month after promising to improve Australia's cybersecurity and transform the economy into a tech-savvy business hub.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the new unit, set up under money-tracking agency the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), would investigate online payment platforms and financial cybercrime to crack down on money-laundering and criminal networks.

"We know that the use of fraudulent identities continues to be a key enabler of serious and organized crime and terrorism," Keenan said in a statement.

The statement said the new AUSTRAC unit would work with the Australian and New Zealand government-funded identity support service, ID Care, to target job recruitment scams that crime syndicates used to recruit innocent people to traffic money between jurisdictions.

The new unit would also work with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network to identify patterns and trends that could indicate large-scale financial scams or their methodology, Keenan said.

Reuters previously reported that a decision by Australia's major banks to stop offering overseas remittance services had driven the money transfer business underground, making it harder for the authorities to track.

In February, unknown hackers tried to steal nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh central bank's account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and succeeded in transferring $81 million to four accounts at RCBC in Manila.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Paul Tait)