Politics with Michelle Grattan: former ASIO head David Irvine on the cyber threats Australia faces

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“The warfare of the 21st century” is going to be “fought in cyberspace before kinetic shots are fired” says leading national security expert David Irvine.

And perhaps the fight has already begun, with Australia’s institutions, businesses, and citizens subject to a near constant barrage of cyber attacks.

Previously chair and now a board member of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, Irvine has a deep knowledge of the cyber risks posed to Australia and Australians by both nation states and criminals.

His career has included heading both ASIS, which manages Australia’s overseas spying activities, and ASIO, responsible for domestic protection.

Irvine describes cybercrime as a “massive issue”, and say that compared to countries like “China, Russia,[…]Iran, and North Korea” the West is lagging behind in its defensive cyber capability.

“I think almost every Western country is probably behind the game in its defences.”

Part of this is the nature of cyber incursions. “One of the rules in cybercrime is that the criminal is always half a step ahead of the protector.”

What can be done? Last year the government committed $1.67 billion over 10 years to combating cybercrime, but Irvine calls in particular for a “public awareness campaign” to get the message through strongly.

“I think back to the old days of HIV and the Grim Reaper, and my sense is that we actually need a very hard hitting campaign that brings home to individuals and businesses[…] the threat that they are under and the sort of resilience that they need to develop as individuals, as companies, and as a nation.”

Irvine is also chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board, and is a former ambassador to China. He says of the current tensions with China, and warnings about “the drums of war”:

“Ultimately, I think we depend on China and the United States to develop a modus vivendi which concedes some interests but protects others. Because the alternative is really too horrendous to contemplate.”

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A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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