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Australia developing offensive cyber capabilities

Christopher Joyce and John Kerin (via AFR) | May 6, 2013

Australia developing offensive cyber capabilities

Prime Minister Julia Gillard with staff at the Cyber Security Operations Centre – defence’s fifth arm. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen


Australia is developing controversial "offensive" cyber warfare capabilities to disrupt and destroy adversary networks, further elevating the importance of cyber security, analysts claim.

"Cyber security continues to be a serious and pressing national security challenge," says the Defence white paper released on May 3, which sets out the Gillard government's defence strategy for the next 20 years.

"The focus on cyber threats and the potential of cyber capabilities worldwide has increased substantially in recent years," it says.

The government has already made substantial investments in new technology and analytical capabilities that "protect Australia against cyber threats and preserve our edge in cyber space".

The paper argues that cyber assets have "continued their evolution toward being military capabilities of real value to states".

Professor Dennis Murphy, director of the Information in Warfare Group at the US Army War College, said: "Much like land, sea and airpower, cyber power is a weapon of war."

Australia and the US agreed in 2011 "that a cyber attack on either of them would trigger the mechanisms of the ANZUS Treaty", and the white paper argues that Australia needs "capabilities that allow us to gain an advantage in cyber space".

While the US has announced it is forming 13 offensive cyber units capable of attacking other states, the Australian government has historically refused to comment on this subject.



There were 1250 "known" cyber attacks against Australian government systems in the year to September 2012, according to the Defence Signals Directorate. "Over 470 were serious enough to warrant a response from Cyber Security Operations Centre."

Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Tobias Feakin said the white paper "marks a distinct progression in how cyber issues are dealt with by the government". He said the white paper introduces the concept of "exploiting cyber power" for the first time, which is an important "addition to the government's vocabulary in official documentation describing the need for offensive and defensive cyber capabilities".

"Cyber power is the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in all the operational environments," the US Army War College's Dennis Murphy said.

The National Security Strategy released by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in January put cyber at the heart of the government's security concerns, making it one of its key five-year priorities, Dr Feakin said. "This has strongly flavoured the 2013 white paper."

The concept of exploiting "cyber power" has been gaining traction among top national security officials.


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