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COVID-19 Offers 'World of Opportunity’ For Spies, Terrorists Australian Spy Boss Says  

The mostly deserted steps of the Sydney Opera House, where scheduled public performances have been canceled due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are seen on a quiet morning in Sydney, Australia, March 18, 2020.

Australia's spy chief is warning of a surge in espionage, extremist propaganda and cyber-crime during the COVID crisis.

Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) boss Mike Burgess says with more Australians at home and online during lockdowns, spies, criminals and terrorists have been increasingly active.

COVID-19 has given hackers, criminals and terrorists “a world of opportunity” to exploit Australians online during lockdowns. That is the view of ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Its job is to prevent espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference and politically motivated violence in Australia.

It believes that extremist groups have spread their ideology and tried to radicalize Australians. Other common scams include phishing for personal information, online shopping fraud and the theft of pension funds, as well as fake cryptocurrency and celebrity endorsements. There are also allegations that foreign governments have used the pandemic to covertly gather sensitive information online.

In a podcast with the Institute of Public Administration Australia, a non-partisan research body, ASIO chief Mike Burgess said the coronavirus pandemic has provided opportunities for criminals and extremists.

“We have seen more people at home, and as they are at home they are online and we have seen increased chatter in the online world when it comes to the spread of extremist ideology attempting to radicalize people, so we have seen more of that just as we have seen more criminal behavior online; cyber crime, which is well reported by other agencies,” he said.

Burgess also criticized tech companies for resisting requests by security agencies to access information in cyberspace. Analysts say his comments are a strong hint that Australia’s intelligence community wants new powers to access end-to-end encrypted content. The technology is used for various legitimate reasons, including commerce and banking.

The ASIO boss said there was a need for the balance between privacy and security to be reappraised in favor of law enforcement and national security. It is a move described by civil liberties campaigners as a "power grab."