Having finally been sworn in after the knife’s-edge federal election, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has wasted no time putting cybersecurity issues at the front of his agenda with the creation of a high-level ministerial position that has been aligned with Australia's defence capabilities to implement the national Cyber Security Strategy launched earlier this year.
MP Dan Tehan, who was previously handling the veterans’ affairs and defence materiel portfolios under the first Turnbull government, added the title of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security during Turnbull’s latest cabinet reshuffle. The new role will see Tehan helping with the implementation of the government's $230m CSS, which Turnbull launched in April and fleshed out with allocations in the May Budget.
Some five key themes and 33 individual initiatives are outlined within the CSS – which was released after a six-month review of the country's cybersecurity defences – is the latest in a series of government steps to consolidate and align a range of cybersecurity resources around a common national defence strategy. The appointment puts teeth behind the CSS effort and will help close the gap between Australia and more security-conscious governments in Europe, said Guy Eilon, ANZ senior director and general manager with security specialist Forcepoint.
“It's exciting to hear that the Australian government is taking cyber security as a serious move,” he told CSO Australia, noting that the issue had gained urgency with Australia becoming a top-ranked ransomware target in recent years. “Having someone to take the responsibility, and lead something more structured, will be very beneficial for the market,” added Eilon, an Israeli native who came to Australia two years ago after working in European markets that, he says, are a decade ahead of Australia when it comes to cybersecurity.
“All the same technologies exist here but the problem is with the perception of the people and the leadership within organisations,” he explained. “The question is not whether they are going to implement the technologies, but whether they see [cybersecurity] as a real risk for the organisation.
The government needs to analyse its current gaps to come up with concrete policies and regulations; that's the game changer. And if the government operates in this way, it will encourage the private sector to operate the same way.” Turnbull's choice of a Defence veteran to head the CSS effort – a commitment that he made with the launching of the CSS – both shows how seriously his government perceives the construction of national cybersecurity defences, and highlights the increasing perception of cybersecurity capabilities as an offensive as well as a defensive tool.
Industry reaction to the appointment was positive, with the appointment of a high-level position seen as a strong support for an industry that has redoubled its investment in Australian capabilities since the CSS was announced. The appointment is “very good news”, Webroot vice president Charles Tomeo said in a statement. “In the modern era of cyber security, defences are best when the private sector and government come together to fight cybercrime and improve cyber security.”
“Though the attackers who target governments and private sector companies may differ in motive, (espionage, IP theft, customer data) the methods for compromise are often very similar. Government can play a big part in creating a neutral place for private companies to share their cyber security encounters, threat intelligence, and strategies for defence.”
Collaboration has been a key aspect of cybersecurity policy under Turnbull, with sharing set to improve skills access despite historically complex relationships and varying levels of trust between private and public-sector players. This ongoing challenge led the chair of ISACA Security to recently argue that despite some successes “we are nowhere close to the ideal intelligence sharing and international cooperation”. Tehan joins previously appointed special advisor on cyber security Alistair Macgibbon, and Turnbull has yet to name a ‘cyber Ambassador’ to be established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under a $2.7m Budget commitment.