Strengthening National Security: Australia’s 6 new ‘Cyber Shields’ explained

Clare O’Neil, Australia’s cabinet Minister with responsibility for cyber security, in late September 2023 addressed the Australian Financial Reviews (AFR) Cyber Summit, highlighting the development of the National Cyber Security Strategy as a top priority.

In her speech, she outlined the urgent need to address the evolving cyber threats facing the country.

Minister O’Neil emphasised the critical nature of cyber security, asserting that it impacts every citizen in Australia, discussing recent cyber attacks on companies like Optus and Medibank, noting that these incidents represent only a fraction of the cyber threats faced by the country.

According to the last report from the Australian Signals Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), the body tasked to lead the Australian Government’s efforts on cyber security, a cybercrime occurs every 7 minutes in Australia, with over 76,000 cybercrime reports are report per year, increasing nearly 13 per cent from the previous financial year.

The Minister’s September 2023 speech highlighted three significant shifts in the cyber landscape that will make the situation more challenging but also present opportunities. First, the growth of the ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ will lead to more connected devices, increasing cyber risks. Second, ‘Machine Learning and AI’ will introduce more complex threats, but they will also provide tools for managing these threats. Finally, ‘Geopolitical Circumstances’ are changing, making cyber security integral to global events.

O’Neil stressed that cyber security is the fastest-changing national security threat and a significant economic opportunity. Australia has the potential to become a global leader in cyber capabilities, creating jobs and exporting products worldwide.

To address these challenges, the Australian Government has undertaken several key reforms in the past year. These include declaring assets as systems of national significance, reviewing major incident response capabilities, launching initiatives like “Hack the Hackers,” reforming the Privacy Act, and chairing the International Counter Ransomware Taskforce.

The Government also established the Office of the National Cyber Coordinator, led by Air Marshal Darren Goldie. This office has conducted cyber war games and facilitated collaboration between Government and various sectors, including aviation, telecommunications, and financial services.

O’Neil outlined the two main tracks of the Government’s work: implementing critical reforms and developing the National Cyber Security Strategy. She acknowledged the importance of collaboration with experts and stakeholders, emphasising the need for a cohesive national plan.

The six key components of the National Cyber Security Strategy include:

  1. Strong citizens and businesses with the power to protect themselves.

  2. Safe technology with clear global standards for digital safety.

  3. World-class threat sharing and threat blocking.

  4. Protecting Australians’ access to critical infrastructure.

  5. Sovereign capability with a thriving cyber ecosystem.

  6. Coordinated global action and partnerships, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

O’Neil emphasised that the strategy aims to protect Australians today while building a roadmap to a more secure future. Success in cyber security does not mean eliminating all cyberattacks but having a clear national approach to respond effectively.

The Minister in her closing address noted the importance of all stakeholders working together to build a cyber-safe Australia, expressing optimism that the country could become a world-class cyber security nation by 2030 with a well-defined plan and collaborative efforts from government, businesses, and experts.

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