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Cyber attacks have lasting impacts: PM’s cybersecurity chief

by Justin Hendry •
Free resource

Topics: IT Services; Cybersecurity; Fed.

Cyber attacks that have a lasting impact on the integrity of government systems are precisely those that require the strongest prevention efforts, according to Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Alastair MacGibbon.

Speaking at the SINET61 Conference in Sydney on Tuesday, MacGibbon used the “comparatively small Denial-of-Service attacks” that were responsible for the Census failure in August as an example of the type of threat which inhibits public take up of digital services.

“I’ve spent the last happy month looking at the failure of government digital service delivery in the Census. While in and of itself, the Denial-of-Service attacks were small, and the actual turning off of the service to the Australian public — apart from being annoying — wasn’t great, the impact in terms of trust and confidence, the impact in terms of the ability of government to deliver services will last for a significant period”, he said.

“That’s the type of thing that we need to prepare for. Not necessarily the hard-edged cybersecurity threats, but how that rolls up in trust and confidence in the systems that we deal with.”

MacGibbon became the first Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security in May, after a stint as Australia’s first Children’s eSafety Commissioner. He was also previously the founding Director of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre within the Australian Federal Police.

His position is one of “three coordinated, strategic-level pillars” that the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy uses to streamline governance. He is specifically tasked with the development of cybersecurity strategy and policy, and the implementation of those priorities by agencies.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre Coordinator Clive Lines, who is also Deputy Director at the Australian Signals Directorate, and the Cyber Ambassador at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who is still to be appointed, are the other key leadership appointments in the government’s cybersecurity architecture. They are also complemented by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan, who was appointed following the July election.

Making cybersecurity into an opportunity

The release of the Cyber Security Strategy in April, which saw $195.1 million in new funding allocated to 33 cybersecurity initiatives across five departments, was intended to advance cybersecurity partnership between government, business and the research community.

MacGibbon said that the strategy consisted of two parts: 1) a protect side, including more staff in government law enforcement and intelligence agencies; and 2) a grow side, which he considers the most important because it focuses on the opportunities for Australia’s nascent cybersecurity industry.

The $30 million industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre, the concept of the Online Cyber Threat Sharing Portal and joint cyber threat sharing centres -- the first of which are proposed to be up and running this financial year, are all critical components to facilitate this opportunity, according to MacGibbon.

“I’ve been here for several of these strategies and I’ve never detected the same level of interest, I’ve never seen industry be as engaged, academia as engaged, and frankly I’ve never seen government as engaged”, he said.

“In many respects, the delay in the strategy and the pent up desire in the community that I’ve seen for that strategy, means that it’ll be more successful.”

The Cyber Security Review, which was authored in parallel to the strategy, raised the need for closer cooperation between government agencies and the private sector.

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