Government and industry have been warned to invest in stronger cyber defences as part of a national push to fight crippling ransomware and other online attacks.
Australia needs a whole-of-nation approach to the threat because the rate of digital adoption has gone to a whole new level, says Andy Penn, chair of the cyber industry committee that advises the federal government.
Mr Penn, who is also the outgoing CEO of the country’s biggest telco Telstra, said the digital space was on the cusp of yet another great leap forward in technology that will “enable a whole new world” by the end of this decade.
“A world with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to unlimited knowledge from cloud and edge computing,” he said in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.
“A world of multiplying possibilities from artificial intelligence and the ‘Internet of Things’, the new digital metaverse, robotics, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology and quantum computing.”
Mr Penn said Australia cannot risk falling behind, but must also face up to new threats.
“The risk of attacks on Australian networks from geopolitical tensions, whether directly or inadvertently, has also increased,” he said.
“And while the threat of cyber attack from state actors is real, it is the knock-on effects that represent significant risks for consumers.”
Mr Penn said that Telstra, for instance, was working 24/7 to protect its networks from malicious activity.
He said that in the past year, it blocked more than one billion malicious emails and 200 million scam calls.
On a daily basis, it is blocking 1500 scam texts every minute.
There are also escalating risks of businesses being caught in ransomware attacks, email scams and smartphone malware.
Mr Penn pointed to a racket known as “business email compromise”, in which malicious actors use email to pretend to be a legitimate business and send messages prompting the recipients to send money or goods.
It is estimated 80 per cent of Australian companies suffered a ransomware attack in 2021 and more than $80 million was lost to email scams.
Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil is overhauling the former government’s cyber security strategy, and says she wants as much industry input as possible.
The next iteration is expected to back critical technologies, support new jobs and skills, and put cyber at the heart of national security.
Mr Penn said the elevation of cyber security to federal cabinet is recognition that it is a national priority.
But he said the “biggest single lever” is community awareness.
“Unless we actually help the community help themselves by better password protection, patching systems, offline backups, we’re never going to be able to catch everything,” Mr Penn said.
He said basic cyber awareness also needs to be built into curriculums – starting at school – for robotics, software engineering, analytics and data science.
“A cyber specialist is usually coming in after the event and trying to fix the problem, whereas in fact we can build cyber security more into the products and services from the beginning,” Mr Penn said.
(Australian Associated Press)