The disappointment of Australia’s new cybersecurity strategy

Finally, after 11 long months, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has delivered a drab and inward-looking cybersecurity plan and has complained about encryption yet again.

The most striking aspects of Australia’s new Cyber Security Strategy, launched on Thursday, are how vague and unambitious it is, especially when compared to the strategy launched by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016.

With the 2020 strategy now online, Turnbull’s vision has of course been thrown down the memory hole despite the government’s claim that it’s now building on its “strong foundations”.

Fortunately for us, the 2016 strategy and its first and only “annual” update are preserved at the Internet Archive.

A comparison of the two is far from flattering to the newcomer.

Turnbull had set out his vision, which in typical Turnbullian style, he referred to as his “philosophy” for a “cyber smart nation”.

“The need for an open, free and secure internet goes far beyond economics,” he wrote.

“It is important for ensuring public and financial accountability and strengthening democratic institutions. It underpins freedom of expression and reinforces safe and vibrant communities.”

The need for an all-optical network

Turnbull said that the internet had to be governed by those who use it, not dominated by governments.

He talked about innovation, about a “national cyber partnership”, and about Australia taking on “global responsibility and influence”.

His action plan included appointing Australia’s first Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and publishing an international cyber engagement strategy — perhaps two of the strategy’s greatest successes.

Indeed, Australia continues to play an important role in global cyber diplomacy.

The proposal for a cybersecurity growth centre turned into AustCyber, promoting Australian businesses internationally.

The strategy created the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre and the Joint Cyber Security Centres (JCSCs), although the latter have struggled to find their precise role.

Importantly, Turnbull appointed a minister to assist the prime minister on cybersecurity, giving the whole strategy some focus and leadership.

Also importantly, the action plan was to be completed by 2020, although admittedly most of the items didn’t come with measurable outcomes.

Turnbull’s strategy didn’t totally succeed. Far from it. But with its panoramic vision and international engagement, it was seen as world-leading.

Making cybersecurity more cybersecure

By comparison, the new strategy from the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton is drab and inward-looking.

“The Australian Government’s vision is to create a more secure online world for Australians, their businesses, and the essential services upon which we all depend,” it says.

That’s it. Our vision for cybersecurity is to be more cybersecure.