Published daily by the Lowy Institute

A regional focus on cyber security

Australia will work with international partners and the private sector to shut down cybercrime safe havens and improve our neighbours' cyber resilience.

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The digital revolution is fundamentally a story of prosperity, of growth through disruptive business models, the opening of new markets, and of sustainable and inclusive development enabled by digital technologies. But these benefits are not guaranteed. We must work collectively – domestically, regionally and globally - to secure our digital dividends. This is what Australia’s new International Cyber Engagement Strategy  is all about.

For both sustainable development and economic growth can be undermined by the costs of cybercrime. Companies as disparate as Reckitt Benckiser and Maersk Line learned of the close links between cyberspace and our economies when they suffered £100 million and US$200 million- US$300 million revenue losses during the #notPetya ransomware incident. Left unchecked, poor cyber security and low cyber awareness can rob populations of the benefits of connectivity.

Nowhere is this opportunity-risk dynamic more acute than in our region. The Indo-Pacific continues to be the world leader in economic growth, with an annual GDP growth rate of 5.5%. More than half the world’s Internet users are now found in the Indo-Pacific and our region is expected to contribute US$1.4 trillion to global e-commerce by 2020.

Yet, just over half of this region’s population is still to gain access to the Internet. In countries such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, the Internet only reaches one in 10 people, representing some of the final frontiers of connectivity. The benefits of the digital age have not been experienced equally, with significant digital divides still evident both between and within countries. The disparity underscores the region’s profound opportunity for economic growth, if digital technologies can be harnessed correctly.

It also means there are a multitude of first-time Internet users in our region. Low levels of cyber awareness and high rates of pirated software make our region increasingly vulnerable to cybercriminals. Our region is hit hardest by ransomware attacks, and is losing one third more business revenue to cybercrime than Europe and North America.

Like cyberspace, cybercrime is not confined by geographic borders. So, just as Australia is exposed to the digital opportunity of the region, we are also exposed to its risks.

Australia’s new International Cyber Engagement Strategy captures these complex and interconnected dynamics of the digital age. Launched today by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Strategy sets out our plan to internationally promote and protect Australia’s interests in cyberspace. It will maximise the economic prosperity promised by digital trade (for more on this, see Business Council Australia's chief executive Jennifer Westacott here or below)  and technology enabled-development, while securing Australia from the threat of cybercriminals and other malicious actors in cyberspace.

Internationally, Australia will maximise the opportunities offered by digital trade. We will shape an enabling environment for digital trade while promoting trade and investment opportunities for Australian digital goods and services. This will deliver increased prosperity for Australia and enhance realisation of economic opportunity globally.

Australia’s cyber affairs agenda is global in perspective and regional in focus. It is in the Indo-Pacific that Australia can best leverage our cyber capacity building resources to support an open, free and secure Internet that facilitates a prosperous and resilient online environment.

Australia will partner to improve connectivity and access to the Internet across the region. 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 a digital ready workforce and promote our region’s further integration into the global market place.

To ensure these benefits are harnessed safely, we will work with international partners and the private sector to continue shutting down cybercrime safe havens and improving the cyber resilience of our neighbours. We will raise cybercrime awareness, assist our neighbours in strengthening cybercrime legislation, and deliver cybercrime training to law enforcement and prosecutors around the region.

These are not just aspirations but practical plans backed up by resources. Today, the Foreign Minister announced a significant increase in funding to our Cyber Cooperation Program. The expanded program will fund practical initiatives for each chapter of the Strategy, with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific.

We cannot achieve these goals alone. Australia will collaborate with international partners and the private sector to maximise digital growth and development, while minimising the risks of cyberspace. Framing Australia’s international cyber interests through this comprehensive lens empowers us to see the big picture of the cyber landscape. Australia’s International Cyber Engagement Strategy positions us to be a positive force in the region, and a global leader on cyber diplomacy.

You may also be interested in