Public, private intelligence sharing our best defence in cyber warfare

Tomorrow’s wars will be fought with binary, not bombs. Clandestine, guerilla raids on critical infrastructure by state-sponsored cyber attackers have the potential to bring nations to their knees. This kind of warfare, fought over the web, is indiscriminate – targeting not just the military but also civilians. 

This isn’t the plot summary of some science fiction film. In fact, Australia has already begun preparing for this next level of warfare. In July this year, 30,000 Australian and American troops took part in the Pacific’s largest ever military exercise, dubbed operation Talisman Sabre. In conjunction with the usual military drills, officers also tested their capabilities in cyber space, defending critical infrastructure and practicing offensive techniques.

Australia’s preparations extend beyond just drills. A cyber warfare unit has recently been created within the Australian Defence Force to conduct both offensive and defensive cyber operations. Although there were already exceptional cyber capabilities within the military, the unit is designed to ensure Australia’s cyber security capability stays on the cutting edge. The goal is to move capabilities beyond the defensive, enabling the army to take the fight to adversaries.   

This unit – the ‘Information Warfare Unit’ – comprises 100 cyber security specialists and will expand to 900 analysts within a decade. This shows how seriously the threat is being taken. Critically, the unit isn’t just about preparing for war, it is also working to protect entrepreneurs, small businesses, corporations, government departments, and any other organisation typically in the cross hairs of cyber attackers. The data these businesses hold, and the functions they carry out, are all enemy targets and this new division is essential to ensuring their safety – and ours. 

Along with government departments, some of the biggest targets will be large Australian enterprises. Now, more so than ever, it is critical that the private and public sectors share the cyber intelligence they have so that both parties can be prepared for anything thrown at them. Attackers are known to share methods and tactics so, in order to advance the state of threat intelligence, private and public organisations must also collaborate and correlate data, quickly.

One of the biggest challenges this new military branch will face is staffing. This division will be unlike other parts of the military; favoring brain over brawn. Recruitment will require not only finding the best of the best, but enticing them away from lucrative private sector positions. Finding the initial staff is only the first battle. The Defence Force will need to determine the skill sets required and what training is necessary if they’re to fill the 900 roles envisioned in 10 years’ time; the personnel simply do not exist today, so they’ll need to be cultivated. 

For the younger generation, still unsure of what to study, cyber security and computer science skills are in incredibly high demand. In the meantime, intelligence is our greatest asset in the fight against cyber adversaries. The private and public sectors must share whatever information they have, as quickly as they can, if we’re to be prepared – both to defend and to attack. 

On 2017-09-19

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