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Defence quells data security concerns amid fears of foreign compromise

The Defence Department has hit back at suggestions that sensitive national security information may be compromised following its decision to renew a data storage deal with a Chinese-owned company.

The Defence Department has hit back at suggestions that sensitive national security information may be compromised following its decision to renew a data storage deal with a Chinese-owned company.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Department of Defence extended a data storage contract with Chinese-owned firm Global Switch.

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The deal, renewed in September, permits the company to continue storing data at its Ultimo facility in Sydney, despite the government’s previous commitment to relocate the information to a secure government-owned complex by 2020.

However, Secretary of Defence Greg Moriarty dismissed suggestions that the deal compromises sensitive national security information, insisting that Defence’s data is “safe and secure”.

“The safeguarding of Defence’s data is of the utmost priority for my Department. Defence has comprehensive security controls in place at the Global Switch Ultimo data centre to protect against compromise by a foreign power or other malicious actor,” he said.

Moriarty stressed that control and access of the Defence data stored at the Ultimo facility “remains under full operational control” of the federal government, adding that all sensitive data was removed from the storage centre in May 2020.

“The facility was designed with multiple layers of physical and cyber security controls. Physical security arrangements are accredited by relevant government agencies and include a 24/7 security presence, CCTV monitoring, sophisticated sensors and alarms, and hardened physical infrastructure,” he said.

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“The Defence Security Operations Centre provides 24/7 cyber security protection. A secure gateway provides further assurance to prevent unauthorised access to the data holdings. Taken together, these measures represent the highest level of security assurance.”

Moriarty added that Defence is taking a “rigorous, risk-based approach” to migrating the remaining “less sensitive” data to an alternate facility.

The Defence Secretary noted that the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) would monitor Global Switch’s compliance with strict conditions on its operations, put in place during the initial transaction.

“In some cases, foreign investment conditions could include restrictions on the involvement of non-Australian citizens and additional security requirements on individuals involved (such as security vetting),” he said.

“The FIRB’s compliance team monitors Global Switch’s adherence to the FIRB conditions on an ongoing basis.

He added: “The protections that were put in place as a condition of that approval means, if they are not adhered to, the Treasurer has the power to act in the national interest and intervene.

“The strength of Australia’s foreign investment rules and the fact that Defence retains full operational control of its data at the Ultimo facility provides the highest level of assurance of Defence’s data as we complete the migration of the remaining Defence ICT assets.”

[Related: Defence releases findings from review in ethical AI use]

Defence quells data security concerns amid fears of foreign compromise
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