Cyber security: Australia, New Zealand and Napoleon

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Andrew Cumpston

“Geography is destiny” is a much debated diplomatic polemic, reportedly first uttered by Napoleon.* The saying may be an oversimplification, but it has always had an element of truth to it. There is no doubt that people’s opportunity and threat analysis has always been heavily influenced by who is nearby. States such as Singapore, Italy or Kazakhstan have traditionally had a fundamentally different set of strategic calculations than Australia and New Zealand because of geography.

However, the influence of geography in the cyber world is close to irrelevant. This has opened fantastic opportunities, but also presents tangible threats.  My computer in Wellington is theoretically no more or less vulnerable than any computer in the world. An organised crime group in Europe is just as capable of attacking a computer in Dunedin as Berlin.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that the cost of cybercrime is around 1% of GDP for developed economies, much of it from theft of intellectual property. Using this back of the envelope figure would lead us to estimate its cost at A $17 billion in Australia and NZD $2.4 billion in New Zealand.

Perhaps more evocative than statistics are the anecdotes that highlight our cyber vulnerability. For example, there was a report in wired.com that security researchers had managed to hack a car through its online entertainment system to allow them to remotely control accelerating and braking. Fortunately this fault was found by a friendly actor so no harm was done, but it required 1.4 million US vehicles to receive software updates.

The growing recognition of risks from our increasing cyber interconnectedness is why both Australia and New Zealand have launched Cyber security strategies in the past six months. We are also collaborating closely on cyber security. Both countries have chosen to have their central Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet play a key oversight role of cyber security efforts, highlighting their importance.

Aside from the fact that many of our key economic institutions, such as banks, are shared, our collaboration is underpinned by common values and personal links. Both countries champion an open, free and secure internet and want to work together to improve our respective cyber defences.

When our Prime Ministers met on 19 February 2016, they pledged to work more closely on cyber security. Both countries agreed to strengthen cooperation, in strong partnership with industry, on practical initiatives to:

  • improve the cyber defences in our region through joint exercising;
  • boost trans-Tasman cyber security skills by enhancing our respective skills competitions for students; and
  • enhance our efforts to lift our nations’ awareness on cyber security through aligned public-private awareness initiatives and education campaigns.

In partnership with businesses and the community, work together to improve cyber security and enhance collaboration across our nations.

Most diplomats avoid commenting on other countries’ domestic policies unless necessary, but when New Zealand announced an investment in a national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), policy wonks in Canberra were overjoyed.  CERT Australia is looking forward to working closely with CERT NZ when the latter is established in early 2017.

A key focus of this collaboration will be to bolster public-private sector collaboration in preventing and shutting down malicious cyber activity that affects both nations.

There is far more to both countries’ cyber security strategies than I can outline in this blog, but the strategies for both countries are available here: https://www.dpmc.govt.nz/dpmc/publications/nzcss; https://cybersecuritystrategy.dpmc.gov.au/

As Prime Minister Turnbull says, getting cyber security right will allow our countries to become a place of innovation and investment, where business grow and individuals can protect themselves online.

Andrew Cumpston is the Deputy High Commissioner of the Australian High Commission in New Zealand, http://newzealand.embassy.gov.au/

* If legend is to be believed, Napoleon said it shortly before he invaded Russia, an ill-fated decision that seemingly did not sufficiently account for geography.

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