"We're only at the earliest stages of understanding all the aspects of cyber power and its place in statecraft" the head of the Office of National Assessments, Allan Gyngell, said in March 2011.
Six months later, the current secretary of the Department of Defence, Dennis Richardson, argued that "cyber power is becoming an important dimension of state power - including for Australia, helped by the cyber dimension of our alliance with the US".
CYBER NOW DEFENCE'S FIFTH DOMAIN
The rise of cyber as the military's fifth domain - adding to air, land, sea, and space - is reflected in its growing prominence in Australia's past three white papers. John Howard's 2000 edition mentioned cyber three times. By 2009 this jumped to 20 references. The 2013 paper cites cyber security 54 times.
"Australia is an attractive target for a range of malicious cyber actors, from politically-motivated hackers and criminal networks to nation-states," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said when announcing the National Security Strategy in January.
Investigations by The Australian Financial Review have revealed that government agencies, including the Reserve Bank of Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Department of Finance, are being targeted by regular cyber attacks.
Craig Searle from BAE Systems Detica, a cyber security company that works closely with the federal government, said: "It is reasonable to assume that there is some level of advanced persistent threat [or compromise] within Australian government assets. These attackers are skilled at bypassing common security controls and establishing a presence and persisting within a target organisation for extended periods."
Information technology lobbyists argue that cyber risks are exaggerated and being used by governments as a trojan horse to control the internet, which is difficult to regulate.
Notwithstanding vast numbers of alleged illegalities, civil and criminal prosecutions relating to the internet are rare.
"The US has announced the formation of offensive cyber teams," the former head of capability planning in the Australian Defence Force's headquarters, Dr Gary Waters, said.
"It would be naïve to think other countries are not doing the same.
"It would be disappointing if Australia was not at the cutting edge of these developments."
In response to claims by digital lobbyists and libertarians that online threats are over-egged, Dr Waters, who has published a book on cyber warfare, said "society in general seems to be systematically underestimating the risks of doing business and interacting online".
"And as we see social media use increase, it is opening up another set of vulnerabilities."
"We have a fairly mature set of security protocols around desktops that simply do not apply to mobile devices at this stage."
A former senior Defence Signals Directorate official, Richard Byfield, added: "It would be reasonable to assume that like conventional defence capability, resilient cyber capabilities require both defensive and offensive aspects. Securing 'time and space' in the cyber realm will become more integral to supporting conventional military operations in future conflicts."
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