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Australia's Children's eSafety Commissioner wants a great human firewall

We've failed to educate the current generation of workers, said Alastair MacGibbon, and we need a new model to educate the next generation.

Cyber security education for employees has largely failed, according to Australia's Children's eSafety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon. He said it is time to skip a generation, and it's time to dump what he called the "failed government industrialised model of central distribution of information", of policy and funding being developed in a minister's office, then flowing out through a bureaucracy to schools.

"We have to start with kids," MacGibbon told the national conference of the Australian Information Security Association (AISA) in Melbourne on Wednesday. "The opportunity for us is actually to make a generational change with Australian children, and that is what our office will be trying to do. No small task."

MacGibbon compares his task to planning a space mission, or in this case, 20-year program to change the way that humans interact with each other online.

"I think most IT security professionals would agree that our concept of educating staff not to be clicking on links and falling victim to those human attacks, we've failed. So generationally what we need to be doing -- while we need to try to maintain our line in the sand as best we can with our modern-day workers -- what we should be doing is investing in the future workers. The great human firewall, if you will," MacGibbon told ZDNet.

"If we can get kids that we're already allowing to use a lot of technology to be safe and secure as they use it, when they become the next generation of worker, we might be able to get rid of those targeted human attacks."

MacGibbon said education is the key. His office already has a AU$7.5 million fund, administered by states and territories, to bring private-sector and not-for-profit sector organisations into the education process.

He's also keen to partner the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner with other organisations, whether that's about helping shape children into better digital citizens, or women suffering extreme violence both offline and online.

"This is about us as community responding to a challenge. As an office, we would like to clearly help coordinate that," MacGibbon said.

"We'll partner with any government agency, we'll partner with any corporate, we'll partner with any small business, we'll partner with any Australian family to do that. Because our mission is to demonstrably change the environment that Australian kids operate in," he said.

MacGibbon's office has just released a set of Partnership principles and sponsorship guidelines. They're looking for proposals that cover research, the development and distribution of eSafety and digital citizenship educational material, the development of tools to assist the office in its functions, technical assistance, knowledge transfer, staff development, or support for conferences and workshops.

Last week, the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner released statistics on its first three months of operation.

The office completed 2,057 investigations into illegal online material, most of it child abuse material, with content removed from the internet within one to three working days through the INHOPE network.

More than 600 children were referred to Kids Helpline, and 40 cases of serious cyberbullying were handled through the office's complaints process. More than 5,200 students participated in the office's virtual classrooms program.

Last week, the office also announced partnerships with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Answers, and Ask.fm, all of whom are cooperating to take down seriously harmful material in less than 12 hours.

"The level of cooperation is remarkable," MacGibbon said.

Stilgherrian travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Tanium.