Australian Budget 2019: Whole-of-government cyber uplift to create ‘cyber sprint teams’

Australia’s cybersecurity overhaul will include updates to government systems for the 2019 federal election, as well as creating ‘cyber sprint teams’ under the ACSC and a Cyber Security Response Fund.

The Australian government's 2019-20 Budget provides funding for a whole-of-government "cyber uplift".

While the numbers weren't published due to national security reasons, the Budget papers said the funding would "enhance cybersecurity arrangements for whole-of-government systems in relation to the 2019 Federal election, and to mitigate potential cyber threats through enhanced monitoring and response capabilities".

This will include the creation of "cyber sprint teams" under the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), as well as a Cyber Security Response Fund.

"The government is bolstering investment in our cyber security strategy to strengthen the defences of government IT systems to address key security vulnerabilities and improve our ability to quickly respond to cyber attacks," the Budget documents said, referring to the Cyber Security Strategy.

The upgrade in government cybersecurity follows the Parliamentary network attack earlier this year, which also hit political parties.

In what Prime Minister Scott Morrison branded a "sophisticated state actor", the online attack in February forced a password reset of all Australian Parliament House network users, including politicians and their staffers.

At the time, Morrison said there was no evidence of electoral interference.

"The Australian government will continue to take a proactive and coordinated approach to protecting Australia's sovereignty, our economy, and our national security," Morrison said.

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By the end of February, the ACSC published its new Essential Eight Maturity Model which had tighter yet more flexible controls for user authentication for Australian government agencies.

The Maturity Model measures an organisation's compliance with the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Essential Eight strategies for mitigating cyber attacks, with the update bringing the model in line with the new version of the Australian government's Information Security Manual (ISM), which was also just released following major update in December 2018.

Under the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Foreign Signals Intelligence, Cyber Security and Offensive Cyber Operations program will expend around AU$831 million in 2018-19, AU$833 million in 2019-20, AU$856 million in 2020-21, AU$886 million in 2021-22, and AU$851 million in 2022-23.

By the end of 2019-20, Defence also expects to present a facility proposal to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for JP 9131 - Cyber Capability Facility Project for expected approval in late 2020.

"This proposed project will provide facilities at HMAS Harman in support of capability. Subject to government and Parliamentary approvals, construction is planned to commence in mid 2020 and be completed by late 2022," Defence said.

For 2019-20, the Department of Defence also said it would be looking to use research for "anticipating advances in emerging science and technology that pose threats and opportunities".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that AU$34.8 million has been allocated to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to counter foreign interference, part of which will establish a Foreign Interference Threat Assessment Centre, and will be operated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Unmanned maritime patrol aircraft with an initial cost of around AU$1.4 billion will also be acquired through the US Navy, while AU$1.8 million over two years will be spent on "digital engagement initiatives to counter extremism online" by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Enhancing cyber skills and digital skills

As part of its AU$525.3 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package, the government will also be developing training packages across skills including IT, communications, and cybersecurity.

"The government will also work closely with industry to train Australians in areas of future high demand, including communications technology, advanced manufacturing, and health services," Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his Budget speech on Tuesday night.

"We announce tonight 10 new training hubs connecting schools, local industries and young people in regional areas with high youth unemployment.

"We are also investing AU$62 million to boost literacy, numeracy, and digital skills."

Over the next four years, AU$41.7 million will be invested to pilot skills organisations across the nation in human services care and digital technologies including cybersecurity.

"These organisations will develop industry partnerships to trial new ways to update and develop vocational education qualifications, to help meet the growing need for skilled workers," the documents said.

The government will also be establishing a new foundational digital skills program alongside new literacy, language, and numeracy programs.

"Training Hubs will be piloted in 10 regional areas with high youth unemployment, to support students to complete their secondary education and access training relevant to industries facing skill shortages," the government added.

"Young Australians should have every chance of success when it comes to career opportunities in the digital age," Frydenberg said.

In addition, the government will establish a National Skills Commission to oversee the total AU$2.8 billion annual investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET), with the commission to drive "research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure the VET system addresses national labour market priorities including those arising from developing technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence".

Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence will gain AU$479,000 in 2018-19 and AU$488,000 in 2019-20.

Over the next five years, the government will additionally provide AU$250 million to pilot the digitisation of Australia's employment services model Jobactive, which will be trialled across 95,000 users from July 1 in Adelaide South, South Australia, and Mid North Coast, NSW.

"The new model will empower job seekers who are job ready and digitally literate to self-serve via a new digital platform," Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said.

"The new system will also work better for employers by creating new online tools to help employers search for job candidates for free, enabling them to meet skills shortages faster.

The new model is expected to commence nationally from July 2022.

The government will also invest AU$18.3 million over four years to develop a centralised digital training record across tertiary education, as well as to develop a Unique Student Identifier.

"These tools will give more power to students in tracking their education," the government said.

How much of the Budget becomes enacted remains to be seen, as the government is expected to call a May election this weekend.

Australian Budget 2019 Coverage