Australia's dream to teach the world to cyber

The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network has made education and talent development a core part of its newly-announced strategy.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

Tackling the cybersecurity skills shortage is a key element of the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network (ACSGN) strategy announced on Thursday. "If we can't grow the segment, and entice more more people into our industry, we won't have an industry," said ACSGN chief executive officer Craig Davies.

Davies wants to make Australia the leading centre for cyber education. "The market is ripe to do this," he said.

The ACSGN is an industry-led not-for-profit company that aims to position Australia as an attractive location for cybersecurity research and innovation. It was first announced as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda in December 2015, and is a key part of the Australian Cyber Security Strategy released in April 2016.

Davies announced the ACSGN's strategy at the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) conference in Canberra. It has five main themes.

Demonstrate leadership and alignment

"We're the first organisation, and we think we're probably the only organisation, in the world chartered by the government to create an industry," Davies said. "We believe its our mission to provide some leadership to the segment across the board."

Davies said ACSGN is partnering with industry bodies, states, and federal governments.

Drive industry collaboration and coordination

Australia is falling behind on measures of collaboration, consistently ranking last or second-last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration.

"We don't like coming last. But when it comes to collaboration in Australia, I'm sorry to be blunt, we suck. We are terrible at it," Davies said.

"My experience [in Silicon Valley], it's the most common thing to catch up with peers and competitors and talk about the issues you're facing. That's how most great startup ideas actually start."

Accelerate commercialisation

ACSGN's focus is on getting the small firms "into the room" so they're considered as potential suppliers. Government systems in particular don't make it easy for small suppliers to get a look-in.

Davies wants every cybersecurity firm in Australia to register on the government's digital marketplace, recently launched by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), and to tell him if it doesn't work.

"We're working very closely with the DTA to optimise that," he said. "The DTA is passionate about the feedback, about how we make this process better."

Facilitate talent growth

"We need to make better pathways for people to get into the industry and learn. And it's no longer the realm of the guy sitting down the back with the hoodie," Davies said.

"There are incredible opportunities in this market, particularly in human sciences [and] data science. There'll always be a role for the deep technical capability, but automation is also coming in to security."

Pursue policy advocacy and reform

"Pursuing policy advocacy and reform is a challenging area, but there's lots of opportunities here," Davies said. The first is the potential market opened up by Australia's newly-passed data breach notification legislation.

"What we need to have is the opportunity for our industry, and for our security players, to come up with innovative solutions that can either stop it [data breaches] from happening, or develop better ways of dealing with the outcomes of that," Davies said.

"The other policy area we need to work on, and the government is very receptive around this, is actually how we deal with investment, and R&D, and what levers we can pull. I don't see it as the role for government to give away more grants and things. What I do want is government to buy more services from Australian companies."

Davies' small team is continuing to uncover Australian cybersecurity firms. Only a month ago, the joint ACSGN-Austrade trade mission to San Francisco was able to showcase 26 firms. ACSGN now has 45 companies on its list.

"We're finding these small Australian companies that you have never ever heard of who are doing amazing things. And offshore, people are living their technology and are buying it up," Davies said.

Throughout his presentation, Davies emphasised the need for speed and agility.

"This is the time that we have to do this. The opportunities for Australia are massive. If we do not move in this space, it will pass us by," he said.

"We do not have time to rub our tummies and think about what we should do. We have to execute. And the great thing about the growth network is that we get to experiment."

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