Australia wants to create a future for cyberspace that’s open, free and secure, but that future is not assured. According to Dr Tobias Feakin, the Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, ‘Australia’s vision … and our ambitions across the broad spectrum of cyber affairs are impossible to achieve alone.’ Key drivers are outside of the country’s control. The government can—and should—advance a positive vision, but Australia might not get its way.

What if the future of cybersecurity looks different from what we hope or expect? This is a hard question to answer. Day-to-day concerns demand our immediate attention, and, when we think about the future, we tend to extrapolate from current trends. As a result, we’re shocked or surprised by discontinuous change, and woefully unprepared to face new realities. The risk is particularly acute in cybersecurity, in which rapidly changing technologies combine with diverse social and political forces to create unexpected consequences. Therefore, as difficult as it is to rethink our assumptions about the future, failing to do so could be dangerous.

This report uses scenario analysis to examine one such future: a world where cyberspace is fragmented in the year 2024. Contrary to the ambition of Australia’s International Cyber Engagement Strategy, cyberspace is neither open nor free in this scenario. We analyse what that implies for cybersecurity. In particular, we examine the challenges and opportunities that Australian policymakers may face in the future and wish they had planned for in our present.

We conclude that Australia will be caught in the fray if the internet breaks apart. While this scenario isn’t all bad, Australia could be forced to fend for itself in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood. The scenario isn’t a forecast or prediction. It’s a compelling narrative to provoke new thinking and critical discussion about what Australia must do now to prepare for different cybersecurity futures.

Our approach is as follows. First, we explain the methodology. Second, we identify the forces of change that drive this scenario. Third, we interact these drivers to describe one possible world in 2024. Finally, we highlight the strategic choices and challenges that this scenario raises for Australia.

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Issues Paper report no.13/2018