Australian cyber needs its ‘slip, slop, slap’ moment

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Australia’s national mission to become one of the world’s most cybersecure nations hinges on building public awareness and opening up the profession, the government’s cyber coordinator said on Wednesday.

While cyber technologies will be an important defence, their place in the hands of adversaries makes people and process all the more critical, according to Australia’s National Cyber Security Coordinator, Lieutenant General Michelle McGuinness.

“So much of it is people and process — to be suspicious, to think before you click,” General McGuinness said.

Speaking in Canberra on Wednesday she said achieving the national strategy’s ambitious goal will require the “hardening” of Australia as a target, with awareness sorely needed to uplift Australians’ cyber hygiene.

“We have been looking for our ‘slip, slop slap’. We’re looking for our ‘click-clack front-and-back’,” General McGuinness told the Australian Cyber Security showcase.

Now synonymous with sun safety, the slip slop slap campaign is credited with significantly reducing melanoma cases in young people since it launched in the 1980s. The road safety message is similarly credited with helping children in car restraint levels reach 98 per cent.

The Department of Home Affairs current cyber campaign ‘Act Now. Stay Secure’ urges Australians to implement cyber basics like strong passwords and not clicking suspicious links.

But something more “catchy” is needed to cut through with the Australians that are fatigued by cybersecurity or see it as too technical a realm, General McGuinness said.

“We’re looking for that thing that changes our culture, so that people feel empowered. They don’t feel hopeless, they feel that there are things that everyone can do. And they can take those measures to protect themselves.”

Appointed earlier this year, General McGuinness leads the federal government’s cyber policy and cultural reform, and technological integration under a new national cyber strategy.

“When I think about the goals of the strategy, we really need to harden ourselves. We need to be more resilient — knowing that we won’t stop every attack — and then I think we need to in a parallel track run a deterrence line of effort… [like] recent attributions and sanctions that we’ve applied.”

In the national cyber security strategy released late last year, the federal government committed to continuing a national cyber awareness campaign and providing community grants for tailored campaigns to certain groups like culturally and linguistically diverse people.

The widespread awareness is key because “all the technology in the world won’t stop somebody from clicking a link”, General McGuinness said in a discussion with Tesserent cyber chief Kurt Hansen.

Mr Hansen said there’s no shortage of cyber vendors and reassuring claims, but technology is only one part of effective defence.

“A lot of [cyber vendors] will stand in front of clients and say, ‘if only you had my technology’… It’s not really true,” Mr Hansen said.

Australia must also overcome a shortage in cyber talent by opening up the profession and laying out clear career opportunities, General McGuinness said.

“We need to ensure that people don’t find the field to be threatening or deeply technical.”

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