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Australia’s New Cyber Affairs Strategy

04 Oct 2017
By Ambassador Dr Tobias Feakin

The Australian government has launched an ambitious cyber affairs strategy, seeking to take a leading role in building a free, open and secure cyberspace.

The foreign minister has launched Australia’s inaugural International Cyber Engagement Strategy. It sets out Australia’s ambitious cyber affairs agenda for the next three years. As ambassador for cyber affairs, I will lead Australia’s international cyber engagement. I will ensure our efforts are comprehensive and coordinated, and founded on partnership with the private sector.

Australia’s interests in cyberspace are diverse and interconnected. We want to capture the economic prosperity promised by digital trade and technology-enabled development. We also want to secure Australia from the threat of cybercriminals and other malicious actors online. The strategy captures this breadth of interests and articulates Australia’s approach across the full spectrum of cyber affairs.

Australia remains committed to a peaceful online environment. The activities of states in cyberspace have implications for us all. Cyberspace is not an ungoverned space. Just like in the physical domains, states have rights but they also have obligations. We will affirm that existing international law applies to states’ conduct in cyberspace, complemented by agreed norms of responsible state behaviour.

Increasingly, states are testing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in cyberspace. The strategy signals our intention to cooperate with international partners to deter, mitigate and attribute malicious cyber activity by criminals, state actors and their proxies, including those that seek to interfere in the internal democratic processes of states.

Australia’s cyber affairs agenda is global in perspective and regional in focus.

As a responsible contributor to the international community, we have a platform on which to influence cyber policy discussions in global forums. Strong participation in international cyber cooperation efforts positions Australia to take a leading role in shaping the future of cyberspace. This is particularly important in international security and internet governance debates.

Having said that, the strategy emphasises the important role Australia plays in our region. The Indo-Pacific presents significant digital opportunities and complex cyber challenges. It is home to some of the most advanced digital economies as well as countries whose digital development is still in its early stages. It is in Australia’s interest to ensure our region is prosperous, cyber secure and stable.

For this reason, the strategy has a strong focus on regional cooperation. We will work with our neighbours, international partners and the private sector to continue shutting down cybercrime safe havens and improving the cyber resilience of our region. These are not just aspirations but practical plans backed up by resources. To support our ambitions, we are significantly boosting funding for our Cyber Cooperation Program.

Australia also sees digital technologies as profound enablers of sustainable development and economic growth. Australia will work to improve connectivity and access to the internet across the Indo-Pacific. We will encourage the use of resilient development-enabling technologies for e-governance and digital delivery of services. We will also support entrepreneurship, help develop digital-ready workforces and promote our region’s further integration into the global market place.

We cannot achieve our goals in cyberspace without coordination and partnership. As ambassador for cyber affairs, I will harmonise and prioritise efforts across the Australian government to ensure existing work is amplified and duplication is avoided. Australia’s voice on international cyber issues will be more unified and influential.

Leveraging expertise, experience and networks through creative partnerships is essential. We will combine the unique and complementary skills of international partners, the private sector, civil society and the research community to maintain a free, open and secure cyberspace.

Working together, we can drive economic growth, enhance national security and foster international stability. This launch is just the beginning—now the real work begins to help support a prosperous region, and demonstrate our global leadership in cyber affairs.

Dr Tobias Feakin is Australia’s inaugural ambassador for cyber affairs.

Johanna Weaver, Acting Director, Cyber Policy Section at DFAT will be speaking on Dr Tobias’ behalf at the AIIA National Conference on 16 October.

This article was first published on the DFAT Blog on 4 October 2017. It is republished with permission.