GUEST OPINION: Cybersecurity incidents continue to plague Australian organisations with malicious attacks increasing in size, scope and sophistication. Alarmingly, each one exposes sensitive critical infrastructure to risks and has the potential to cause significant disruption to essential services – costing the Australian government billions of dollars. Against the backdrop of a burgeoning cyber threat landscape, the need to better protect our public and private sector organisations is crystal clear, as is the urgency with which we must produce the local skills to support that need.
After nine years in opposition, Labor’s sweeping election victory provides an opportunity to try some new approaches which could have potential benefits to address our country’s enormous skills shortage and offers hope for an evolved vision for cybersecurity. And, it’s not a moment too soon. In the financial year 2020 to 2021, the Annual Cyber Security Threat Report by the Australian Cyber Security Centre analysed self-reported losses from cybercrime hit upwards of $33 billion, with approximately one-quarter of reported cybersecurity incidents affecting entities associated with Australia’s critical infrastructure. With reforms and initiatives planned to drive change in the Commonwealth’s cybersecurity culture, the appointment of Clare O’Neil, a dedicated cybersecurity minister, enhanced training in the sector and more opportunities for women, the new government and prime ministerial vision set the right tone for a collaborative partnership and a unified front to strengthen the country against cybersecurity threats.
Recent global events have driven home the importance of cybersecurity to Australia’s economy and national security and the Government’s appointment of Clare O’Neil, a dedicated cybersecurity minister is certainly welcome news and if executed correctly, a step in the right direction.
However, defending the most serious threats that disrupt our way of life requires a high level of collaboration between the public and private sectors. Leveraging the combined resources and expertise of government and industry leadership is crucial to synchronise operations and take preventative measures as a unified front against cybersecurity threats. The private sector must play its part and treat cybersecurity risk as a business risk, providing shareholders, customers, partners and the public with essential information needed to make responsible decisions.
From an industry standpoint, there have been recent reforms to safeguard critical infrastructure from potential incidents in the midst of increasing state-sponsored attacks. According to PwC’s Digital Trust Insights Survey 2022, 69% of Australian executives expect an increase in state-sponsored attacks on critical infrastructure, shedding light on the widespread concern and distrust among influential stakeholders. The thing is, malicious bad actors, whether state-sponsored or not, will continue to strike, especially when targets are distracted or unprepared.
The systematic changes being voiced by the Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security, Tim Watts, already encourage follow-through on promises made by the new government. At the Government Data Protection Summit in Canberra, the leader told change-makers of the imperative need for transparency in the government’s cybersecurity functions going forward – along with consistent cooperation across all domains within the country’s cybersecurity ecosystems – in particular the private sector risk incident responders. Much like other countries with a dedicated cybersecurity minister (such as Japan), Australian cyberculture will benefit greatly from stronger mutual trust between private and public partners who can work to perform synchronised operations, and implement Vulnerability Disclosure Programs (VDPs) and expedite incident response rates.
With more visibility for women on both sides of the polling booth – voters and candidates -, opportunities for women in positions of power are hopefully growing. Mobilising women beyond traditional roles is not only a win for female empowerment, it has the potential to be an even bigger advantage for industries like cybersecurity, and the community at large. The diverse threat landscape in today’s volatile environment requires a set of diverse perspectives to understand the growing tide of cyber risks in their entirety. This is the approach required to evade cybercriminals who use assumption-based tactics to compromise susceptible OT infrastructure, thus preventing an attack well before it could potentially hit the shore. The technology industry comprises only 28% of women, implying an even smaller percentage for women within the niche of cybersecurity. If the new Albanese government can walk the talk, at long last we might just get to a place where we have the capabilities to intercept and prevent more, potentially disastrous cyberattacks. It certainly makes the potential for our cyber future look a little bit brighter.
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