SYDNEY, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Australia will spend A$1.66 billion ($1.19 billion) over the next 10 years to strengthen the cyber defences of private companies and households following a rise in cyber attacks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce on Thursday.
Cyber attacks on businesses and households are costing about A$29 billion or 1.5% of the country's Gross Domestic Product, according to Morrison's prepared remarks seen by Reuters.
The package is the latest cyber spending commitment from Australia, coming just weeks after Canberra said it will spend A$1.35 billion over the next decade to bolster the capabilities of the country's chief cyber intelligence agency.
That spending followed an attack by a "sophisticated state-based actor" on all levels of government, political bodies, essential service providers and operators of critical infrastructure.
Although Australia has declined to say who it believed was responsible for those attacks, three sources briefed on the matter told Reuters the country believed China was responsible, a suggestion swiftly dismissed by Beijing.
While much of Australia's cyber policy to date has focused on bolstering the defences of government agencies after an attack on the country's parliament in 2019, but malicious cyber activity is increasing against small and medium businesses, universities and households, says Morrison.
Morrison will pledge the increased spending to fortify the defences of critical infrastructure, boost police efforts to disrupt the criminal activity on the dark web and strengthen community awareness.
"We will protect our vital infrastructure and services from cyber attacks. We will support businesses to protect themselves so they can succeed in the digital economy," says Morrison.
While Australia seeks to strength its cyber defences, it will also embark on a more aggressive approach to disrupting would-be attackers.
The Australian Signals Directorate - which Reuters revealed late last year determined China was responsible for hacking Australia's parliament - will be given new funding to counter foreign cyber attacks.
China denies it was responsible for the attack on the country's parliament that came just months ahead of a national election.
($1 = 1.3877 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)
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