​Cyber experts to brief Australian political leaders

The prime minister will take his political opponents through a cyber defence training session next month in a bid to ready the country for a cyber attack.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be put through his paces by cyber defence experts on Tuesday, as he and his cybersecurity assistant Dan Tehan visit the Australian Signals Directorate to learn about the nation's offensive and defensive capabilities.

Turnbull will invite other interested party leaders to a similar briefing from the Australian Cyber Security Centre when parliament resumes next month, as he attempts to prepare the country for an attack-free future and a "safe" electoral system.

Speaking with ABC on Tuesday morning, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Dan Tehan said it is important that the government has the correct measures in place and can provide the advice that is needed to the public and his peers.

"The prime minister sees this as beyond politics. Democracy goes to the heart of who we are as Australians so he wants to make sure we have put all of the steps in place we need to keep our electoral system safe," he said. "And that's why he's calling this meeting of all political parties ... to make sure they're fully briefed on what they need to be doing to ensure that their systems are safe."

Tehan said that if other political parties approached the Coalition with questions or concerns surrounding cybersecurity, that they would happily provide advice on what they need to do.

"Turnbull wants to make sure that the know-how is there," he added.

"No one can ever guarantee 100 percent security in this area but what you can do is make sure that you've got the defences in place to give yourself the maximum amount of protection."

There is no indication anyone has sought to use cyberattacks to influence Australian elections like in the US, Tehan said, but said it was important that political parties put in place mitigation strategies and are aware of the latest developments.

"We've seen what happened to the DNC (Democratic National Committee)," he said.

Earlier this month, a report jointly compiled by the United States NSA, CIA, and FBI concluded that Russia's intelligence services had conducted hacking attacks against organisations involved with the 2016 US presidential election, with the most high profile target being the DNC.

Tehan previously warned Australians of the devastation a "cyberstorm" could have. In his address to the National Press Club in November, he described a cyberstorm as being an attack that compromises power, telephone, emergency, and financial networks, with attacks potentially mounted by a foreign power, criminals, or kids causing trouble.

"We are naive if we think that in Australia we are immune to any of these threats," he said.

Tehan spoke of the need to make sure that Australia understands and plans for growing cyber threats, noting that how the government prepares for when cyber threats hit the country will determine how well it manages them.

"All of us must be on notice -- it is not a case of if but when government, businesses, or individuals will be hit," he said.

"When it comes to cybersecurity, being prepared isn't just having a wall that will block and protect from attacks. Instead, being prepared means minimising risk and having the ability to recover, to remediate, and to respond."

Tehan insisted cybersecurity will be high on the national security agenda this year.

Turnbull unveiled Australia's AU$230 million Cyber Security Strategy in April, which is aimed at defending the nation's cyber networks from organised criminals and state-sponsored attackers, and sits alongside the AU$400 million provided in the Defence White Paper for cyber activities.

Included in Turnbull's strategy is the AU$136 million spent on small business grants to boost security, increase the government's cybercrime intelligence and investigation capabilities, create a threat information-sharing portal, and be able to identify vulnerabilities in government systems.

Additionally, items already catered for under the government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda announced in December 2015 are AU$38 million to support new business and promote the exporting of security products, the creation of a national cybersecurity innovation network, and a boost to Data 61's cyber program.

A total of AU$13.5 million has also been allocated to establish academic centres of cybersecurity excellence, and to raise awareness of cybersecurity across the country.

In the months since Turnbull handed down his strategy, Tehan said the government has taken action with increased urgency, pointing to the recent appointments of Alastair MacGibbon as Australia's first cyber security special adviser to the prime minister and Dr Toby Feakin as Australia's first ambassador for cyber affairs, in addition to his own role, to prove his point.

"Suffice to say, while our Cyber Security Strategy still stands it cannot afford to stand still," he said.

"What we do today will prepare us for tomorrow. We need to accelerate the implementation of our Cyber Security Strategy and look to where we can further address our vulnerabilities.

"If we can do this, we can be confident in facing what comes next."

With AAP

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