​Dr Tobias Feakin appointed as Australia's ambassador for cyber affairs

The federal government has announced the appointment of Dr Tobias Feakin as Australia's inaugural ambassador for cyber affairs.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan have announced the appointment of Dr Tobias Feakin as Australia's first ambassador for cyber affairs.

In a joint statement made on Thursday, the pair said Feakin's role will be to support cyber capacity building in the region, advocate against state censorship of the internet, and promote Australia's view that opportunities provided by the internet should be available to all people.

"Cyber threats are not bound by national borders," Bishop said. "[The role is] a new frontier that affects our economic and security interests."

Feakin was a member of the Independent Panel of Experts that supported the Australian Cyber Security Review to produce Australia's AU$230 million Cyber Security Strategy, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched in April.

He has been the director of National Security Programs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) since 2012 and established the institute's International Cyber Policy Centre; he has also held a number of research and advisory positions, including with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, the Oxford University Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre, the Global Commission on Internet Governance, and the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.

Pointing to the PhD Feakin holds in Philosophy in International Politics and Security Studies, as well as an Honours degree in Security Studies, Tehan said the new ambassador has "real expertise" in the area of cybersecurity.

The government's decision to establish the position of ambassador for cyber affairs was announced when Turnbull unveiled his Cyber Security Strategy, 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.

At the time, Turnbull said the ambassador's role would be to liaise between agencies and business, and communicate the strategy internationally.

Feakin will join Tehan -- who added the role of cyber assistant to his existing roles as the minister for Defence Personnel and the minister for Veterans' Affairs after a post-election Cabinet reshuffle in July -- on the prime minister's cyber defence team, which also includes Alastair MacGibbon, Australia's first special adviser to the prime minister on cyber security.

A former Australian federal police agent, MacGibbon was appointed as e-safety commissioner in March 2015, and was empowered to investigate and seek to have content removed if it is deemed to be bullying to a specific Australian child.

When head of the International Cyber Policy Centre ASPI, Feakin said that while a patchwork of cyber-haves and cyber-have-nots exists across the Asia-Pacific region, bad actors will take advantage of the laggards. As a result, he advocated for attempting to close down what he described as "cybercrime safe havens".

"That clearly should be a focus of Australian efforts, because it will damage Australian businesses in the longer term if those are not addressed," he said previously.

"What we are seeing is highly permissive environments being created for criminals to act, both physically and online.

"It's incredibly attractive if you can base yourself in a particular country and conduct various criminal activities without real fear of retribution, arrest, or disruption."

Feakin said many nations lack the skill set necessary to do something about cybercrime, and it provides an opportunity for those with the skills needed to help out.

"It requires better technical forensic skills than most regional police forces have. It also requires an educated judiciary who actually understand the severity of the crimes being conducted, how to actually prosecute on the basis of evidence that they are actually given," he said.

Feakin is expected to begin his role as cyber ambassador in January 2017.

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