news Prime Minister Julia Gillard this morning announced that the Federal Government would spend $1.46 billion through to 2020 on strengthening what she described as its “cyber security” capabilities, including establishing a dedicated Australian Cyber Security Centre.
The terms “cyber” and “cyber security” are not widely used throughout the technology sector, with most in the industry preferring to refer to the security field as information security or IT security. “Cyber” is a term which was more widely used to refer to the Internet and other digital spaces throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, after it was coined by science fiction author William Gibson. However, in a speech outlining the Federal Government’s new National Security Strategy this morning, Gillard used the term frequently to refer to the Government’s planned operations in the area.
“As we roll out the National Broadband Network, we are deploying a more sophisticated focus on cyber security,” the Prime Minister said. “Australia is an attractive target for a range of malicious cyber actors, from politically-motivated hackers and criminal networks to nation-states.”
“This not only has the potential to affect governments but businesses and the community alike. For the public sector, we must ensure that our most important networks are some of the hardest to compromise in the world. But government alone cannot develop a secure and safe digital environment. We must continue to work closely with industry and international partners to develop a set of global ‘norms’ for online behaviour. The Internet must remain open but also be secure.”
Gillard said the Goevrnment had committed substantial funding and additional effort to strengthen Australia’s “cyber” capabilities, including $1.46 billion out to 2020 to strengthen our most sensitive networks, and establishing the office of the “Cyber Policy Coordinator” within the Prime Minister’s own department.
“In the same spirit, tomorrow I will formally announce the development, by the end of this year, of a new Australian Cyber Security Centre,” said Gillard. “This will be a world-class facility combining existing cyber security capabilities across the Attorney-General’s Department, Defence, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission in a single location.”
“It will provide Australia with an expanded and more agile response capability to deal with all cyber issues — be they related to government or industry, crime or security. Importantly it will also create a hub for greater collaboration with the private sector, State and Territory governments and international partners to combat the full breadth of cyber threats. Malicious cyber activity will likely be with us for many decades to come, so we must be prepared for a long, persistent fight.”
It’s not immediately clear precisely how the new Cyber Security Centre will relate to the Government’s existing operations in the area. Various departments, ranging from the Attorney-General’s Department, which houses the government’s national computer emergency response team (CERT Australia), to the Defence Signals Directorate, which established its own Cyber Security Operations Centre, and even the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, already operate IT security organisations, and it is believed that they were already cooperating to some degree together.
In addition, there has been little evidence presented by the Federal Government of widespread IT security attacks on either the government or the private sector that would justify the creation of a new organization to tackle such attacks.
In a statement responding to Gillard’s speech this morning, Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam warned the Federal Government to avoid jeopardising civil liberties and human rights in the pursuit of security.
“It’s a positive that the Prime Minister recognises that a secure international environment is built on trust, and reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to multilateralism, but some of her statements and much of the Government’s ‘security’ agenda causes concern,” said Ludlam.
“The notion that online security threats are ‘the new terrorism’ is already generating an expensive overkill in cyber security measures. The Government has touted a series of troubling measures including the proposed retention of the electronic communications data of all Australians for a period of two years. What’s next?”
“We are concerned by the implications of greater collaboration between Government and the private sector on online matters. While the idea sounds innocuous, what will be the implications for privacy, copyright, and freedom of communication?
Ludlam said Gillard had glossed over Australia’s legislative response to the 9/11 attacks as though they were a resounding success.
“The Howard-Ruddock ‘anti-terror’ laws were extreme, damaged civil liberties and undermined our justice system. The tripling of security budgets the Prime Minister cited has entailed the expanded apparatus seeking new ways to justify its huge and growing money pot,” the Greens Senator added. “We will continue to subject the Government’s cyber security plans to intense scrutiny, to ensure the human rights and civil liberties of Australians are not sacrificed in the fervent pursuit of a largely questionable agenda.”
I am inclined to agree with Ludlam on this one. We’ve seen very little evidence that the Federal Government or the private sector has been under “cyber-attack” over the past while, and all of the major policing and defence organisations already have dedicated IT security organisations to tackle these kinds of issues. Why throw more than a billion dollars at this area? What, precisely, is this money going to be spent on? I have half a mind to file a Freedom of Information request for the budget of the proposed new Cyber Security Center, to find out what it’s actually going to be spending its money on.
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