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Australia puts digital frontier at heart of national security plan

Prepares for ‘long, persistent fight’ online with new national Cyber Security Centre

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Australia is tooling up for a “long, persistent fight” online, and believes digital combat will be as important to the nation’s future security as involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan were in the last decade.

No less a figure that Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed that opinion today in a speech billed as a landmark security policy pronouncement that had as its premise the assertion that “The 9/11 decade is ending and a new one is taking its place.”

To ready the nation for coming online battles, Gillard said Australia will combine the infosec functions of several agencies – the Attorney-General’s Department, the Australian Defence Force, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission - in a single location to operate as the new Australian Cyber Security Centre. The new operation should be up and running by year’s end.

Gillard said the Centre will be “a hub for greater collaboration with the private sector, State and Territory governments and international partners to combat the full breadth of cyber threats” and will mean Australia has “an expanded and more agile response capability to deal with all cyber issues — be they related to government or industry, crime or security.”

Gillard’s speech made constant reference to a previous landmark utterance, namely one that launched the “Asian Century White Paper” that offers a long-term vision for Australia as a nation enmeshed with Asia and less engaged with European and North American nations when it comes to trade cultural influences and defence.

Today, Gillard said “our national objectives in the region can only be realised if there is sustainable security in Asia.”

It’s probably drawing too long a bow to suggest that’s a barbed message to China that Australia is keeping an eye on its online activities. But it does signal Australia considers its digital frontier something that needs strengthening as its Asian engagement deepens.

One signal missing from the speech is just how the Centre will engage with the private sector. One element of that sector - security vendors - has not been shy of approaching the Australian government to push their agendas and have not been rebuffed when the offer aid. McAfee recently helped to prepare a cyber-safety campaign for Australian children, while The Register is aware of a prominent security vendor’s involvement in lobbying for and formulating data breach laws due to go before Parliament this year.

One hint of what the new Centre might get up to derives, in part, from our own story that ASIO, Australia’s largest intelligence agency, has changed its recruiting practices to ensure it has specialist staff to assist in its work.

Since we started work on that story, the agency has advertised for a Telecommunications Interception Specialist. That worker could conceivably be one of those transferred to the new national centre. Who’s calls will the new hire be tapping? ®

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