Supporting digital trade a key element of Australia's cyber diplomacy: Feakin

'Global in perspective, regional in focus' is the mantra underpinning Australia's forthcoming International Cyber Engagement Strategy -- but with trade come norms of behaviour, and enforcement.

Australia intends to take advantage of the region's "booming economy" in cybersecurity, for itself and its friends, according to Ambassador for Cyber Affairs Dr Tobias Feakin. The nation will also be "ramping up considerably" its funding for international cybercrime cooperation.

Australia has an international standing in cybersecurity, and brings "key qualities" to the table, he said.

"We have regional knowledge beyond most. We have a trusted diplomatic brand, and that's something that we intend to capitalise on. We have strategic and economic interests in the region. And we have long-standing development partnerships across the region already," Feakin told the second annual SINET61 conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

"We need to capitalise on those, make the most of them. Not just for us as a government, [and] for regional partners as well, but also for our private sector ... We see this issue as central to our economic future," he said.

"It's only this year that it's just reached the point, of tipping over, to 50 percent of all internet users living in the Asia-Pacific. But really, still, there's huge economic growth to unravel there, because still 60 percent of all households don't have internet coverage."

Australia's diplomatic engagement on cyber security matters will be detailed in the government's International Cyber Engagement Strategy, to be launched next Wednesday.

"We'll be promoting and significantly support digital trade as a key element of our cyber diplomacy. We're already doing that in a large degree. Australia is already included in 10 of the 11 free trade agreements with a digital component, and we'll continue to push on that," Feakin said.

"But we must recognise that the incredible economic opportunity offered by cyberspace is underpinned by an open, free, and secure internet."

The seven chapters of the strategy will cover these seven themes:

  1. Maximising prosperity by enabling digital trade
  2. Building a strong and resilient cybersecurity posture for Australia, the Indo-Pacific, and the globe
  3. Combating and shutting down safe havens for cybercrime
  4. Ensuring responsible state behaviour in cyberspace
  5. Keeping the internet open, free, and secure
  6. Protecting human rights and democracy online
  7. Using digital technologies for development

The region is "incredibly diverse" both economically and culturally, and according to Feakin that will present challenges.

"We have some countries at the cutting edge of technology, and others at the start of their digital journeys. But we see there's a danger that those that are at the beginning of their journey will actually have real difficulty if they don't address the challenges that they will face when they come online," Feakin said.

"They are all suffering at the hands of cybercrime. It's a shared challenge, and it's something that we need to address together. And what we understand now is that the region is particularly vulnerable. We're losing approximately a third more business revenue from cybercrime in this region than anywhere else. We can't afford for that picture to get any worse, so we'll be identifying how we can respond to this," he said.

"We have a cyber cooperation program, which currently stands at AU$1 million a year over the next three years, but I would say watch this space. Why? Because we'll be ramping that up considerably."

The strategy also continues Australia's push for international norms in cyberspace.

"One of the things we want to talk about extensively is this troubling trend of increasing blurring of line between state and non-state actor," Feakin said.

"The US doesn't have enough evidence to name North Korea as the culprit of WannaCry, and there's numerous open-source studies ... that constantly refer to the Russian government increasingly blurring their lines with the serious organised criminal elements," he said.

"We're also seeing in the region increasing numbers of countries developing a cyber warfare capability. We don't see this in itself as an issue, but if it's not spoken about, and it's not placed within a framework of international law and norms, then it does become problematic for the region. We're taking active measures to make sure we're in the midst of this conversation, driving the conversation, and pushing it forward."

As just one example of that diplomacy, Australia signed agreements with China earlier this year, including a commitment to adhere to the 11 international norms in cyberspace developed by the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (UN GGE). China and Australia also agreed to not engage with cyber-enabled intellectual property theft against each other.

The US norms include a commitment that nations must not "knowingly allow their territory to be used for internationally wrongful acts"; not conduct or knowingly support activity that intentionally damages critical infrastructure; take "reasonable" steps to ensure the integrity of the supply chain for ICT products; and "not conduct or knowingly support activity to harm the information systems of the authorized emergency response teams (sometimes known as computer emergency response teams or cybersecurity incident response teams)".

Feakin said that Australia believes agreements such as those with China should be enforced.

"As we've established already these clear expectations of what state behaviour should look like online, we will need to work together to ensure compliance ... I think where we stand as Australia is the fact that there must be consequences for those who actually break the rules. It can't be, as some would imagine, a lawless environment," Feakin said.

"There are countries that still want to lock down the internet in a way that we don't feel is appropriate for economic benefit, for human expression and human rights online, and we will actively look to push back on those standards wherever we can. And the private sector has equally powerful a voice as states in this argument."

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