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Government unveils latest weapon against cybercrime

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PM Albanese at the announcement of a new government branch to combat cybercrime (Screenshot via YouTube)

Prime Minister Albanese has announced plans for a new department within Home Affairs as a strategy against the growing threat of cybercrime, writes Paul Budde.

CYBERCRIME has emerged as one of the most serious criminal activities in recent times, posing a significant threat to governments, businesses and individuals alike. The impact of cyber-attacks is expected to grow over the coming years, highlighting the urgent need for decisive and coordinated action.

Inevitably, major headlines will emerge heralding the first AI-driven cyber-attack. Governments and businesses have stepped up their efforts to prevent such crimes from wreaking havoc on Australia's society and economy. The establishment of the National Office For Cybersecurity, at least on paper, appears to signal a more coordinated approach to cybersecurity.

However, national cybersecurity is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game. It is essential to stay ahead of criminals and the effects of an increasingly dangerous geopolitical environment, where cyber warfare has become the latest weapon for attacking adversaries. Defenders must work together to combat cyber threats, employing the latest technologies and adhering to agreed national policies.

In 2020, I submitted recommendations for the Government's Cyber Security Strategy. At the time, I argued that there was a serious lack of vision and strategy attached to the policy. Too often, decisions were made without proper process and government cybersecurity initiatives were knee-jerk reactions to external events. It is crucial to seek input from experts in the field before developing policies, rather than afterwards. Due process is necessary to develop solid policies that engender trust between the Government, industry and the community.

I was involved in the even early discussions on the matter in 2015, however, a report produced by the Australian Cyber Security Centre was shelved by the Government at the time. Another report was submitted in 2020 also to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton when he was Minister for Home Affairs.

It looks like the steps now undertaken by the present Government nearly three years later are based on the report from 2020.

The establishment of the National Office For Cybersecurity is a positive step, which may have been prompted by the major cyber-attacks on Optus and Medibank last year. However, having a national office in itself is not sufficient to solve the problem. Legislative power is essential to enable independent operation and execution of the strategy, rather than being mired in party politics.

The various agencies involved, including ASIO, defence, law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure and finance regulators, are unlikely to relinquish their powers easily. Therefore, a strong legislative foundation is necessary to ensure the success of the National Office For Cybersecurity. If not, it may become just another siloed organisation in the cybersecurity pie.

It is crucial to establish a bipartisan foundation for this initiative, indicating how serious the Government is about tackling cybersecurity threats. Only then can we hope to achieve a sound national strategy that serves the country's best interests.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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