Defence money repurposed to fight cyber threats

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The government says the funding will enable more threats to be identified, and the activities of more foreign cybercriminals to be disrupted, writes political columnist MICHELLE GRATTAN.

THE federal government is repurposing $1.35 billion of its planned defence spending over a decade to meet the increasing threat of cyber attacks on Australia.

Michelle Grattan

The announcement follows Scott Morrison recently revealing “a sophisticated state-based cyber actor” was targeting “Australian organisations across a range of sectors including all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure”.

Although the government has refused to identify the state-based actor, it is known to be China.

The repurposed funds will boost capabilities provided through the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Cyber Security Centre to identify and ward off cyber attacks.

The government says the funding will enable more threats to be identified, and the activities of more foreign cybercriminals to be disrupted. It will facilitate partnerships between industry and government to help deal with the problem.

A large slice of the money – $470 million – will go to expanding the workforce devoted to fighting the cyber threat. More than 500 new jobs will be created within ASD.

Announcing the initiative, Morrison said malicious cyber activity against Australia was increasing in frequency, scale and sophistication.

“The federal government’s top priority is protecting our nation’s economy, national security and sovereignty. Malicious cyber activity undermines that,” he said.

Some $359.5 million of the spending is over the forward estimates.

The package aims to strengthen protection and resilience at all levels – from individuals and small businesses through to the providers of critical services.

Giving an example of the planned enhanced capability, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said “this package will enable ASD and Australia’s major telecommunications providers to prevent malicious cyber activity from reaching millions of Australians by blocking known malicious websites and computer viruses at speed”.

She said the package “is one part of our $15 billion investment in cyber and information warfare capabilities that will form part of Defence’s 2020 Force Structure Plan to address the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape”.

Among the funding to develop capabilities to disrupt and defeat malicious cyber activity there will be:

  • more than $31 million to enhance the ability of ASD to disrupt cybercrime offshore, and provide assistance to federal, state and territory law enforcement agencies
  • more than $35 million to deliver a new cyber threat-sharing platform, so industry and government can share intelligence about malicious cyber activity, and quickly block threats
  • more than $12 million which will help ASD and major telecommunications providers to prevent malicious cyber activity from reaching millions of Australians by speedily blocking malicious websites and computer viruses.

Other measures will improve understanding of malicious cyber activity so emerging threats can be identified and dealt with faster. There will be:

  • more than $118 million for ASD to expand its data science and intelligence capabilities
  • more than $62 million to deliver a national situational awareness capability to better enable ASD to understand and respond to cyber threats on a national scale. This includes informing vulnerable sectors of the economy about threats and the best ways to mitigate them
  • more than $20 million to establish research laboratories to better understand threats to emerging technology.

Other spending details will be announced later.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. This article was originally published on The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan
Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra, Michelle Grattan is one of Australia's most respected and awarded political journalists.

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