Enabling Australia's digital future: cyber security threats and implications

5 May 2014

This report argues that a greater number of future online attackers - anyone from disgruntled employees to organised cybercriminals and nation-states - could cause widespread disruption and financial losses by hacking into Australia's digital services and infrastructure, including public services like patient health records and taxation data.

Executive summary

Australia’s digital future is set to transform the nation. Our transition towards a more digital economy will drive economic progress, improve social wellbeing, and open up new opportunities for innovation and increased competitiveness on the global stage.

Continued technological advancement and rapid adoption are central to our progress, as new developments spur more innovative business models, products and services, which are crucial in responding to key national and sectoral challenges - such as rising healthcare costs, increasing household electricity prices and Government pressures to do more with less. As technology and digital solutions continue to play a key role in driving the economy and society forward, they become increasingly embedded into business operations, across key service offerings and into our personal lives.

Australia’s future is digital, hyperconnected and critically dependent on technology, making strong cyber security capability crucial to navigating the associated risks and opportunities ahead. Our increased dependence on technology, combined with the evolving complexity and sophistication of cyber security threats, together increase our level of vulnerability – at a national, organisational and individual level.

Advancements in technology may be contributing to these evolving security challenges, but they are also a key part of the solution. Developments in data analytics and machine learning are allowing us to better understand network anomalies and harness big data. Progress in cryptography techniques are helping to better secure information. And sophisticated risk management modelling tools are allowing leaders to make more informed cyber decisions.

Whilst progress has been made towards improving and advancing cyber security solutions, we are at risk of becoming complacent. Amidst an environment of continuous, rapid change, with increasing levels of complexity and uncertainty, we cannot afford to rely solely on past and present solutions. Ensuring Australia’s digital success into the future will require bold cyber security leadership and further investment now. It will require ongoing science and technology research that can identify emerging cyber security challenges and develop practical solutions. And it will require a cultural shift, extending cyber security responsibility out to every organisation, every government, and every individual.

Taking this direction requires a change in perspective, recognising that cyber security is not solely a technology challenge. It is also a cultural challenge, and one that extends beyond traditional information security practices. Alongside investment in new cyber security tools and technologies that can keep pace with evolving threat challenges, our nation’s future strategies require a commitment to improving cyber security skills, awareness and education, as well as an imperative to evolve cyber security perceptions to understand the central role this capability has in enabling our digital future.

Successfully navigating the road ahead will require a whole-of-nation effort, harnessing the full range of resources available across our economy. Alongside existing national and defence-related strategies, the research community in partnership with industry and Government have a vital role to play, through applying innovation and cutting-edge technology to the people, process and technology solutions needed going forward. Through the integration of knowledge, ideas and resources, we can ensure strong cyber security capability is at the core of a digitally-enabled Australia.

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