Aussie forces ready, but cyberwar is chaff

Aussie forces ready, but cyberwar is chaff

Summary: Australia's military and defensive structures place it in a better shape to defend itself against cyber attacks than the United States, according to a senior analyst.


Australia's military and defensive structures place it in a better shape to defend itself against cyber attacks than the United States, according to a senior analyst.


(Oryx image by Vaughan Leiberum, CC2.0)

Gartner research director Andrew Walls said the nation's military and intelligence agencies, including the armed forces and the secretive Defence Signals Directorate, have been assigned clear areas of responsibility and are structured to promote information sharing.

"Australia is in a very good defensive position," he said.

In the US, on the other hand, completely separate organisations might share the same set of responsibilities, which could lead to delays and clashes in responses to cyber threats.

"After 9/11, the US created multiple groups each with different capabilities and responsibilities," Walls said. "Cyber capabilities come under any number of agencies [in the US], including the NSA [National Security Agency] which is a very different beast to the others."

However, Walls believes the cyber threat has been completely over-hyped. He said that a nation's cyber capabilities are only complementary to their military capabilities, and labelled the term "cyberwar" as chaff.

The term denotes network-based attacks from state and non-state actors against a nation's infrastructure, and according to former counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke was coined in the 1991 Gulf War.

"Don't call it cyberwar," Walls said, responding to ZDNet Australia questions on the topic. "A lot of hype comes from the mainstream media [and] governments need to work on communicating the basic problems and foundations to the public."

Those problems include a lack of classification on what is considered a network attack or an act of war, and what capabilities are considered legal or ethical.

He said the cyberwar moniker leads the public to perceive the government as a guardian against cyber attacks, and creates an expectation that a nation should have a defensive cyber-shield.

British Telecom chief security officer Bruce Schneier said in a blog that governments are grossly exaggerating the term.

"There's a power struggle going on for control of our nation's cybersecurity strategy … if we frame the debate in terms of war, if we accept the military's expansive cyberspace definition of 'war', we feed our fears," Schneier said.

US cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt also played down the term, while others have attacked reports that the 2008 denial-of-service attacks by Russia against Georgian targets were an act of cyberwar.

In his book, CyberWar, Clarke identifies the US, Russia and China as the nations with the strongest military cyber arsenal.

Topics: Security, CXO, IT Priorities

Darren Pauli

About Darren Pauli

Darren Pauli has been writing about technology for almost five years, he covers a gamut of news with a special focus on security, keeping readers informed about the world of cyber criminals and the safety measures needed to thwart them.

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