Australia beefs up cyber-defence capabilities

New Department of Defence modernisation budget capped at $42.4 billion over 7 years. Moves to tackle cyber-attacks and space surveillance in a more vulnerable environment.

The Department of Defence has weighed in behind building Australia’s cyber-security capabilities under an ambitious modernisation program. The department’s just-released “2016 Defence Paper” warns that new and complex non-geographic security threats in cyber-space and space are impacting on security. 

“Cyber-attacks are a real and present threat to the ADF’s war-fighting ability as well as to other government agencies and other sectors of Australia’s economy and critical infrastructure.” 

Defence’s latest budget earmarks $42.4 billion through to 2020–2022. The aim is to beef up air, land and sea defences. This comprehensive blueprint secures network infrastructure and fast-tracks investment in technology and government-industry know-how.

The department’s latest defence spending agenda will account for two per cent of Australia’s GDP. 

Game of Nations

Beyond the regional military modernisation, Australia’s strategic environment is shaped by complex non-geographic threats. These incorporate cyber-attacks and the more intrusive monitoring using space surveillance systems. 

“The security environment of the future, both in peacetime and during armed conflict, will feature increased threats from offensive cyber and space-based capabilities,” says the report.

Cyber-attacks represent a direct threat to defence’s war-fighting ability. This stems from a growing reliance on globally-connected communications and high-speed, fast-access networks. 

State and non-state actors have ready access to highly-capable and technologically advanced tools. These intruders track targets through internet-connected systems. There is a preference for offensive cyber operations. This trend is likely to continue.

“Cyber threats also have impacts well beyond Defence,” adds the report. “There is the potential to attack other Australian government agencies. Moreover, all sectors of Australia’s economy and critical infrastructure are vulnerable. 

State actors can carry out state-based espionage including that against the Australian defence industry.

Security incidents

The Australian Signals Directorate has detected over 1,200 cyber security incidents in 2015, including attacks on government agencies and non-government sectors. The Australian defence industry was one of the key non-government sectors targeted last year, along with energy, banking and financial services, communications and transport.

Australia is the world’s twelfth largest economy and has sophisticated and growing military capabilities. However, the country does not have the capacity to unilaterally protect and further its global security interests. 

Forward-planning incorporates protection against longer-range precision-guided missiles, and the more advanced intelligence or reconnaissance systems. Space and high-altitude monitoring capabilities come under scrutiny.

In future, the APAC region will see more autonomous systems joining the military arsenal. These include unmanned combat vehicles that operate in the sub-surface, surface or air space. 

The next two decades will see other technological advances. These incorporate tapping into quantum computing, innovative manufacturing, hyper-sonics, as well as directed energy weapons or unmanned systems.

In other news, the Australian government has teamed with the US to collaborate on global cyber-security and cross-border defence collaboration. The Victorian government is also hosting a dedicated broadband hub in Melbourne to track internet traffic and plan against potential attacks in cyber-space.