Malcolm Turnbull

Australia 'lagging behind' as cyber threats outpace government security plans


Cyber security threats are outpacing the Federal Government's four-year strategy to toughen up Australia's defences, according to an independent research centre which found fewer than 5 per cent of the initiatives had been achieved in the first year.

On a day when the Turnbull government was criticised over the implementation of its cyber security strategy, the Prime Minister was sitting down for talks on the matter.

He talked with representatives from the telecommunications and internet service provider industries and referred to cyberspace as "the new frontier of espionage, it is the new frontier of warfare".

"It's the new frontier of threats to Australian governments, to families and to businesses. It's also a vector for the foreign states to interfere in democracies," he said.

In April 2016, the Turnbull government unveiled a $230 million cyber security strategy with a 2020 target.

Experts say cyber threats outpacing security plans


But a review by the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute has found only a small fraction of the goals have been achieved so far.

Co-author of the institute's report, Liam Neville, told SBS World News much more work needs to be done if the initiatives laid out are to be met.

"On a global scheme, it's quite a good strategy, on principle, because it engages the whole country in a partnership to achieve cyber security," Mr Neville said.

"It's not just trying to secure the government, it's trying to secure the whole country and, at the same time, it's trying to grow our cyber security industry, which will be really critical in the future to our economic success.

"So, from that principle, it's quite a well-developed strategy.

"Its implementation at the moment's just lagging behind."

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reports only four of the 83 initiatives set have been achieved - only 5 per cent.

It says another 20 are "on track" and 22 others need "greater attention" to meet the four-year time frame.

No work had begun on 14 other outcomes.

Mr Neville says the delays predominantly come down to last year's election and caretaker period, as well as inefficient communication with the private sector.

"One of the big things that we spoke about with people when we were developing this is people don't know what the timelines are," he said.

"They don't know when the work's going to be finished, or, particularly for the private-sector partners who are helping, what they need to do and when by.

"So the government needs to talk more with people. They need to have clearer communication plans. They need to have clearer plans for implementation."

Dan Tehan, the minister assisting Prime Minister Turnbull for cyber security - a position created as part of the strategy - rejected assertions the government was lagging behind.

"The government has made major steps in implementing it, put real funding, real resources, behind it," Mr Tehan said.

"When it comes to the recommendations, well over half of the recommendations in the cyber security strategy, we're implementing.

"On some, we're ahead of target. On others, sure, we've got to make sure, over the next two to three years, we implement those."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was supportive in helping the government combat cyber crime.

"I think what we saw in recent weeks is criminals and people who would seek to do harm across the world have been hitting soft targets," Mr Shorten said.

"I think there's more that the government can do, and it should be a bipartisan, cooperative effort to help strengthen our hospitals, help strengthen our medium and small businesses."

At the meeting with the online participants, Mr Turnbull flagged more talks to come.

"We need to be more cohesive, and what we're looking for today is an open discussion as to how all of us - telcos, the big over-the-top providers, the big web-based platforms, Amazon, Facebook, infrastructure providers like NBN - can work together to ensure that we can better protect Australians, their businesses, their families ... keep them safe online."

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