The Australian government has launched a new strategy aimed at uplifting the cybersecurity capabilities of the nation and its international neighbours, pledging an additional AU$37.5 million in funding alongside a handful of greater Indo-Pacific initiatives.
Australia’s international Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, sets out the goals for a “safe, secure, and prosperous Australia, Indo-Pacific, and world, enabled by cyberspace and critical technology”.
It is hoped the strategy [PDF] will strengthen national security, protect Australia’s democracy and sovereignty, promote economic growth, and pursue international peace and stability.
The strategy supersedes the 2017 International Cyber Engagement Strategy and is centred on three main pillars — values, security, and prosperity — to guide Australia’s international cyber and critical technology engagement.
The first goal is for technology to be used to “uphold and protect liberal democratic values”, the strategy outlined.
To achieve this goal, the strategy said Australia will advocate for cyberspace and critical technologies to uphold and protect democratic principles and processes; promote and protect human rights online and in the design, development, and use of critical technologies; support the ethical design, development, and use of critical technologies consistent with international law, including human rights; and advocate for diversity, gender equality, and women’s empowerment in the design, development and use of cyberspace and critical technology.
Under the values banner, the strategy pointed to a handful of initiatives that Australia is a part of, including the global partnership on AI and the AI ethics framework that was released in November 2019 to help guide businesses and governments seeking to design, develop, deploy, and operate AI in Australia, as well as the women in international security and cyberspace fellowship that was launched in February 2020 alongside Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Security, the strategy stated, has the goal of “secure, resilient, and trusted technology.”
The Australian government is hopeful that shaping the development and use of critical technology, including cyberspace, will help support international peace and stability. To achieve this, it will aim to build international resilience to digital disinformation and misinformation and their effects; build a strong and resilient cybersecurity capability for Australia, the Indo-Pacific, and the world; strengthen cooperation for enhanced prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of cybercrime; and enable a safe and inclusive online environment that will help it achieve such a goal.
As part of the strategy, expanding on its “security” pillar, Australia will co-sponsor a proposal to establish a new United Nations program of action for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.
Also under security, the strategy said the government will continue to attribute malicious cyber activities to states, calling it “one tool in Australia’s toolkit”. The government has on eight occasions publicly attributed activity.
Further, the government’s existing Cyber Cooperation Program will be renamed as the Cyber and Critical Tech Cooperation Program and will see an additional AU$20.5 million to “strengthen cyber and critical technology resilience in Southeast Asia”.
The program, which previously received AU$34 million in official development assistance funding from 2016-2023, was previously touted as playing an important role in supporting Australia’s international cyber engagement, championing an “open, free, and secure internet that protects national security and promotes international stability while driving global economic growth and sustainable development.”
The government will also contribute a further AU$17 million to support neighbours in the Pacific to strengthen their cyber capabilities and resilience, including for fighting cybercrime, improving online safety, and countering disinformation and misinformation.
The “security” chapter of the strategy also pointed to existing initiatives, including those underway by the eSafety Commissioner; a handful of technology-related legislation, such as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018; work on combating misinformation; and the lacklustre Cyber Security Strategy launched in August.
Lastly, under “prosperity”, the strategy stated Australia’s goal would be to use technology to foster sustainable economic growth and development.
It aims to do this through supporting a connected and prosperous Indo-Pacific comprised of independent sovereign states enabled by secure and economically viable critical technology; advocating for open, resilient, diverse, and competitive international technology markets and supply chains; strengthening Australian research, industry, and innovation through international cooperation; shaping international critical technology standards that foster interoperability, innovation, transparency, diverse markets, and security-by-design; promoting the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance; and maximising economic growth by shaping an enabling environment for digital trade.
Additionally, Australia will also support a partnership with Standards Australia in Southeast Asia, a partnership with the University of Technology, Sydney in Southeast Asia, and a partnership with Trustwave in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
“Cyberspace and critical technology is a top foreign policy priority,” Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology Dr Tobias Feakin said. “The strategy sets out our goal for a safe, secure, and prosperous Australia, Indo-Pacific, and world enabled by cyberspace and critical technology. It provides a framework to guide Australia’s international engagement.”