Reducing vulnerability to cyber attacks is a high priority for the Department of Defence and work needs to be done to improve its networks according to a new white paper released today.
The Defence White Paper (PDF) said that the potential impact of malicious cyber activity has grown with Defence’s increasing reliance on networked operations.
“In a future conflict or escalation to conflict, an adversary could use a cyber attack against Australia to deter, delay or prevent Australia’s response or the Australian Defence Force’s deployment of forces,” read the report.
“This would probably include the targeting of information systems, networks and broader support infrastructure perceived to be integral to the ADF’s decision making and war fighting capabilities. Once deployed, our forces need to operate as a networked force in a contested environment.”
The white paper notes that in 2011, Australia and US acknowledged that the ANZUS mutual defence treaty would apply to cyber attacks.
Australia’s security position will depend on integrating cyber power into its national defence strategy.
The paper also acknowledged that it is important to protect information in peacetime as any compromise of Australian government information could allow an adversary to gain economic, diplomatic or political advantage over the country.
“Compromise of commercial, government or private citizens’ information would undermine public and international confidence in Australia as a secure digital environment.”
Defence admits that there is a “significant” body of work to be done to ensure the security of defence systems against cyber attacks.
“Network and system management, along with personnel and physical security need to be strengthened as part of our response,” the white paper states.
In January, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the establishment of the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
It will bring together security capabilities from the Defence Signals Directorate, Defence Intelligence Organisation, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Attorney-General’s Department’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Australia, Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Crime Commission (ACC).
The new centre will “facilitate faster and more effective responses to serious cyber incidents and provide a comprehensive understanding of the threat to Australian government networks and systems of national interest. Defence will play the principal role in the operation of the Centre and will continue to dedicate significant expertise to this important national capability,” the white paper states.
The white paper also called for the investigation of unmanned air, maritime and land platforms- also known as drones.
According to Defence, the platforms, particularly unmanned aircraft, are proliferating not only among national defence forces but also companies and non-state actors.
“With stealth and the ability to loiter for extended periods, these systems have advantages for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, including in support of Australia’s border security needs. Armed unmanned systems will be available in greater variety and sophistication in years to come.”
According to Defence, semi-autonomous unmanned systems able to engage in self-protection and offensive operations are under development overseas and may be deployed by defence forces in the mid-2020s.
“Domestic, international legal and policy considerations will be important factors associated with their employment. We will need to understand the increasing opportunities and risks arising from the use of greater autonomy in electronic attack, including in the early stages of strike operations,” read the report.
In September 2012, Opposition leader Tony Abbott said that a Coalition government would purchase Global Hawke drones to upgrade Australia's surveillance capability.
“Global Hawke unmanned aerial vehicles, which in a day can undertake detailed surveillance of 40,000 square nautical miles, could help to protect the oil and gas projects on the North West Shelf as well as allow much earlier detection of illegal boat arrivals,” he said at the time.
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