A specialized ministry for cybersecurity has been reinstated by the new administration after almost four years. The mega-portfolio of Home Affairs, which has been marginally reduced, will be managed by Clare O’Neil.
The cyber issue has expanded during the time that cybersecurity has been without a committed minister.
The easiest aspect of cybersecurity is merely getting organizations, corporations, members of civil society, and individuals to patch their systems and implement basic security measures (although it’s not that simple, as every secretary will most surely tell the minister).
The field of cybersecurity now encompasses a wide range of topics. Home Affairs has the policy arm, the Australian Signals Directorate (including the Australian Cyber Security Centre), the Australian Federal Police, and AUSTRAC have the operational arms, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has the international component.
Take the theft of intellectual property as an example of how diverse the areas of attention are. A US commission put IP theft losses at over $300 billion per year ten years ago and concurred with the then-director of the National Security Agency that it represented “the biggest transfer of wealth in history.”
But IP theft is just one aspect of the cybersecurity spectrum. It includes safeguarding critical infrastructure and thwarting espionage. As well as elements of foreign influence in elections, disinformation, and hybrid threats, it increasingly involves the information domain. It will be necessary to safeguard important space assets.
And in order to allow what is essentially the creation of an entirely new industry, all of this will require skilled immigration and a training upgrade.
Cybersecurity also has a significant impact on international relations. Australia must endeavor to promote standards in international fora, develop the capability to address these dangers in our region, and collaborate with other nations who share similar views to address cyber criminals.
New technologies will also bring new cyber hazards to the table. While automation and artificial intelligence will also present new difficulties, necessitating a new generation of defensive measures, technologies like 5G will connect most of what we own to the internet, posing potentially terrifying cybersecurity concerns.
What then can the new minister do to deal with these issues?
The talent pipeline ought to be given top emphasis. Here, there are only two options: increasing skilled migration and improving human resource development. O’Neil ought to apply both. Australia should promote immigration and launch a genuine training initiative, including bringing back STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) instruction in schools.
Australia’s finest cybersecurity experts have been trained by ASD, which has so far rendered a crucial but underappreciated national service. Our policy frameworks should enable it to fully embrace this role; such alternatives include designating a specific CEO to oversee the widespread training of cyber professionals, looking beyond ASD, and considering how the agency may assist national initiatives.
We also need to assess impact. For instance, has obligatory data breach reporting improved the health sector’s ability to safeguard private information? How big is the ransomware issue, and how much have our recent efforts helped to lessen it?
The cyberfacets of AUKUS should be the third point of emphasis. As then-prime minister Scott Morrison made clear at its inception, the trilateral agreement covers much more than just defense.
The reciprocal acceptance of security assessments like IRAP (Infosec Registered Assessors Program) across AUKUS countries is a significant move the cybersecurity minister may support so that businesses that pass security assessments here can immediately sell into the US and UK markets. The minister might also direct AUKUS toward agreements on the upcoming 5G and 6G stages, which ought to be the low-hanging fruit.
Fourth, the minister should work with Foreign Minister Penny Wong to ensure that any increase in foreign aid includes significant resources for building regional cyber and technology capacity. This will benefit both the economies and resilience of our regional partners as well as our own security. Home Affairs should lead on cyber policy, and ASD should lead on operations.
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