Former ASIO head asks for more cyber support from government

David Irvine has called for the development of a new Australian cybersecurity service industry that draws on R&D, supports startups, and has a global commercialisation plan.

David Irvine, formerly the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), has called on the government to do more to support cybersecurity down under.

"I would like to see the development of a new industry," Irvine said.

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"I'd like to see the development of a new indigenous Australian cybersecurity service industry here, which draws on much, much, much more extensive research and development here in Australia, which has much, much more support for startups, and gets much more support from government through Austrade and others in terms of exporting that to the world."

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Speaking at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo on the Gold Coast on Wednesday, Irvine urged governments and industry to work more closely together on developing cyber awareness, calling it a key factor in the nation's success.

"The Israelis have done it. They've got a few advantages over us one being an existential threat and the other one being, oddly enough, national service where you've got all the right people in the one place together," he said.

"Individual companies and the ability to develop a cyber hygienic culture, which requires a lot of work -- we all know how difficult it is to change the culture of companies -- but it's got to be there because without it, it's the war zone of the 21st Century."

While there has been no shortage of breaches and cyber-related incidents even just this year, Irvine highlighted a need to not become complacent.

"Every publicised breach is a wakeup call for us, but for a very long time, governments, companies, and individuals in a sense heard the wake up call, pressed the snooze button and went back to sleep and in the meantime, the number and the type of breaches and attacks reported ... has continued to grow," he said.

"As a nation, were making progress; we're beginning to realise the scope of the problem, but there's still a long journey ahead of us."

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Pointing to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, Irvine said the world is just on the cusp of what stands before it, and that government and industry is already playing catch-up as it is.

"There is an understanding of the problem but there isn't yet a full understanding about how we actively manage our cyber crime vulnerabilities, how we defend ourselves against these vulnerabilities ... ultimately, we're not there and we need, in my view, to have much more effort by the government and the private sector -- and individuals -- into developing what I'll call national cyber resilience. Far greater than we have now," he said on Australia's efforts.

With Australia re-drafting its cybersecurity strategy, Irvine also urged those with a view on any element of cybersecurity to make a submission.

Asha Barbaschow travelled to Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo as a guest of Gartner.

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