eSafety gets AU$10m boost to help Aussies stay safe online post-coronavirus

As the government expects practices adopted due to COVID-19 social distancing measures to continue.

eSafety gets AU$10m boost to help Aussies stay safe online post-coronavirus

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has received an additional AU$10 million in funding to help it administer protections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said Australians have embraced a "rapid digitisation of workplaces, schools, and households" during COVID-19, which he said underpins the need for a continued focus on online safety. 

"These last few months have seen many Australian families spending more time online to work, study, and socialise as we've practiced social distancing," Fletcher said.

"Research shows that even as restrictions ease and we return to COVID safe school and work environments, many Australians will maintain their new digital habits and people will continue to rely on the internet more than ever before to stay connected."

See also: Australian government advice on how to avoid coronavirus-related scams and cyber threats

The minister said COVID-19 has seen many people turn to eSafety for guidance more often, with website page views across eSafety.gov.au more than doubling, and image-based abuse reports up 200%.

In addition to expecting the AU$10 million to help eSafety continue its usual work, Fletcher said the cash would also boost eSafety's investigations and support teams across the image-based abuse and cyberbullying functions.

The funding follows a report from eSafety that found just over a third of adults had a negative online experience during COVID-19, including 26% of respondents to its survey saying they received repeated, unwanted messages or contact; 12% being sent unwanted inappropriate content, such as pornography or violent content; and 8% reporting things said to them to provoke an online argument.

The report [PDF], COVID-19 impacts on Australian adults' online activities and attitudes, summarises the answers of 1,229 respondents from a survey that was run from May 21 through 25.

It also found social distancing measures saw a significant increase in online activity driven by use of the internet to stay up-to-date with news and health information, with 30% reporting having done this "a lot more"; 27% to work; 27% to watch videos; 25% to access social media for entertainment; and 23% to make video calls with family and friends.

Post COVID-19 restrictions, many adults said they intend to either maintain or increase their online activities including to pay bills and banking, to communicate with family and friends, access news and information, work, and for purely entertainment purposes.

Also on Monday, Austcyber, a non-profit organisation charged with growing a local cybersecurity ecosystem and facilitating its global expansion, announced four additional recipients of nearly AU$8.5 million in funding as part of its AustCyber Projects Fund.

The fund is a AU$15 million, three-year initiative designed to help the Australian cyber security industry grow both locally and globally. The first round of AustCyber's Projects Fund provided AU$6.5 million in matched funding to ten industry-led projects. 

South Metropolitan TAFE will receive a slice of the funding to deepen the framework for the national delivery of vocational cybersecurity education and training; Cybermerc is leading a consortia to establish a national Threat Intelligence Portal to collect and share data of new cyber attacks targeting Australian businesses; Untapped is helping develop a virtual, cloud-based, cybersecurity training and assessment centre in Australia to connect individuals with cyber security employment opportunities and options for further study; and also receiving funding, the University of Adelaide is leading the development of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to provide cyber focused resources and challenges to support and encourage Australian schoolteachers in national cyber security education efforts.

Previous recipients under round two of the program were Australia's Academic and Research Network (AARNET), Airlock Digital, Alpha Beta, Amplify Intelligence, Cynch Security, Fifth Domain, Kortek, Locii, Penten, Quad IQ, Responsight, Serinus Security, and WorldStack.

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