By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia has created its first military cyber division, a government minister said on Friday, seeking to expand hacking attacks on foreign enemies including Islamic State.
"This is a result of the changing character of contemporary conflict," Dan Tehan, the minister assisting the prime minister on cyber security, told reporters in Melbourne.
The new unit, known as the information warfare division, will allow Australia to increase the sort of cyber attacks made on Islamic State that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last year were making valuable contributions to efforts to loosen the militant group's hold in Syria and Iraq.
Cyber attacks supplement air strikes and other warfare activities that are part of Australia's role in the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, the country's defense force said.
The new unit will also be responsible for defending Australia's armed forces against cyber attacks, Tehan said.
Another government agency will expand its remit from defense to begin cyber attacks on offshore criminals, Tehan also said.
The moves come amid a wave of global cyber assaults, including one this week that originated in Ukraine and the WannaCry ransomware attack in May that infected computers in nearly 100 countries.
Australia has largely escaped significant damage from the attacks, though Tehan said the global impact demonstrates the need to take the cyber fight to the foreign hackers.
"We have to make sure that we are keeping the mums and dads, the small businesses, the large businesses, government departments and agencies secure in this nation," he said.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Tom Hogue)