Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a record investment in Australia’s cybersecurity, with $1.35 billion earmarked for programs to enhance the country’s digital and information warfare capabilities over the next decade, including a new $35 million real-time cyber defence platform.
The billion-dollar cyber spend, sourced from existing Defence funding, will be allocated over the next decade across various programs to enhance the capabilities of Australia’s chief digital defence agencies, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and its junior agency the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).
Under the funding program, more than $35 million has been earmarked to develop a new cyber threat-sharing platform. The proposed platform would enable industry and government to share intelligence on malicious cyber activity and block emerging threats in near real-time.
The funding, touted by the Federal Government as the “nation’s largest-ever investment in cybersecurity”, comes in the wake of a massive wave of cyberattacks launched against Australia’s government and industry last month, with the PM flagging long-standing concerns around threats posed by state-sponsored hackers and their potential to undermine national security and resilience.
The coordinated and most likely state-backed hacking campaign, believed by experts to have originated in China, targeted government agencies, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers, and operators of critical infrastructure.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian Federal Police and other Home Affairs agencies were confronting increasingly brazen cybercriminals and other online threats.
He said the record cyber investment would “significantly strengthen our agencies’ ability to tackle these threats”.
Tackling an escalation in cyber threats
The latest cyber funding program, under the banner of Cyber Enhanced Situational Awareness and Response (CESAR), would equip Australia to tackle an escalation in the frequency, scale, and sophistication of cyber threats, the PM said.
The funding boost will allow the ASD to step up to a more proactive role in Australia’s cyber defence, according to the PM, actively disrupting foreign hacking networks and solidifying partnerships between industry and government that would ensure a more coordinated defensive posture.
“The Federal Government’s top priority is protecting our nation’s economy, national security, and sovereignty,” Morrison said. “Malicious cyber activity undermines that.”
Spread over a decade, the Government’s record investment in cybersecurity planning would, he said, deliver tools and capabilities to “take the fight to cybercriminals offshore and neutralise and block emerging cyber threats”.
Looking at the breakdown of the billion-dollar Federal funding package, the ASD will notably receive $31 million to enhance its offshore cybercrime disruption efforts, as well provide greater assistance to Federal, state, and territory law enforcement agencies.
More than $12 million has been allocated towards new “strategic mitigations and active disruption options”. The plan is to create a more coordinated approach between the ASD and Australia’s major telecommunications providers to prevent active malicious cyber campaigns, working ‘at speed’ to block known malicious websites and malware.
Perhaps most notably, more than $118 million has been allocated to expanding the ASD’s data science and intelligence-gathering capabilities – deemed a critical priority by the Government that would allow public agencies and intelligence-gathering teams to better frame defensive parameters and respond more rapidly to threats.
Upwards of $62 million has been assigned to deliver a “national situational awareness capability”, under the auspices of the ASD, to understand and respond to cyber threats on a broader, national scale.
Another $20 million will go towards establishing cutting-edge research laboratories that will advise agencies and industry on ensuring cyber-secure technology implementations.
To deliver these capabilities and initiatives, the funding package also includes a $470 million investment to expand the Government’s cybersecurity workforce, with the creation of more than 500 new jobs within ASD. The ASD’s Careers website has provided a list of these openings.
The remaining details of the CESAR Package will be detailed in the Government’s forthcoming 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, building on the foundations established within the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy.
On the front foot with combating cyber attacks
Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds, said this substantial cyber investment would put Australia on the “front foot in combatting cyber threats.”
“The investment in ASD’s cybersecurity workforce would ensure Australia has the people to meet future cyber challenges,” Reynolds said.
“This package is one part of our $15 billion investment in cyber and information warfare capabilities that will form part of Defence’s 2020 Force Structure Plan to address the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape.”
The Plan is a broader digital program to enhance Defence’s technological strengths, among which include investments in high-tech warfare systems, enhanced data collection and transmission systems, aerial unmanned vehicles, and a fully inter-connected land, sea, and air network to boost situational awareness capabilities.