A paper by Professor Greg Austin, acting director of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at UNSW Canberra, published by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), has warned Australia's biggest threats are not terrorists, China’s navy and boat people – which a majority of Australian's found to be the biggest security concerns – but rather emerging threats in military cyber security.
In Professor Austin's chapter 'Are Australia’s responses to cyber security adequate?', he argues Australia cannot rely on its allies in the cyber warfare battle.
"Australia cannot count on significant operational support from its major ally to defend against a complex cyber attack in wartime," Professor Austin wrote.
"A number of specialists agree that the Americans will be too busy defending not only their own networks, but tens of thousands of unique computerised systems in deployed weapons platforms, and in outer space.
"The Australian Defence Force is on the cusp of a revolution as it prepares to reorganise for cyber-enabled warfare; and the Australian cyber security industry is set for significant growth."
However, the professor added the military shake-up has come "two decades late, and the country faces some security penalties because of the delay", with threats intensifying regularly.
"To respond to the emerging environment, Australia will need to develop complex systems of decision-making for medium intensity war that address multi-vector, multi-front and multi-theatre attacks in cyber space, including against civilian infrastructure and civilians involved in the war effort. The country does not now possess such capabilities, nor is it close to achieving them. It has not even begun planning for most of them," he said.
"We are now seeing an intensifying frequency of cyber attacks that sit somewhere on a blurred boundary between peacetime sabotage and political subversion on the one hand and, on the other, acts of war."
However, he also noted that the government has begun making changes for the better.
"Foundations for the necessary changes have been laid. In April 2016, Malcolm Turnbull released ... Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy, with a sub-title Enabling innovation, growth and prosperity," Professor Austin wrote.
"The strategy delivered a mature and nuanced framework and held out some promise for redressing important deficiencies in the country’s posture, but exclusively in the civil sector."
Professor Austin recommends a national innovation strategy to keep Australia at the forefront of international best practice in cyber technologies as the best solution moving forward, calling for a strategy with nine key points:
• A national innovation strategy that keeps the country at the forefront of international best practice in cyber technologies that can be applied in war;
• A military strategy for cyber-enabled warfare that takes account of the proven and estimated character of such an armed conflict, including public intelligence assessments of likely cyber war threats and a top-end (but credible) scenario;
• A strategy for sovereign cyber war capability and cyber survivability in a time of direct military confrontation with a major power;
• A capital procurement program centred on advanced cyber-enabled war capabilities, including space-based assets and new technologies of decision-making;
• A renovation of military institutions, training and education for cyber warfare;
• Necessary investments in niche technologies and research capabilities;
• A strategy for managing civilian-military divides and critical infrastructure protection in times of military conflict;
• A strategy for mobilising cyber-capable reservists or civilians in times of military crisis; and
• A sharp distinction between the national needs for cyber security as largely a civil domain set of issues and the needs for cyber-enabled war fighting capability.
"Australia needs ... a recognised authoritative hub that can unite political, military, diplomatic, business, scientific and technical interests and expertise. Such changes, long delayed, are becoming more urgent," Professor Austin wrote.
The paper also noted the ADF will need more money and skilled personnel, and is anticipating the government will "have to revise current commitments to major weapons platforms, such as 12 new submarines being built for a total cost of $60 billion over several decades" to address this.