Could Australia become a network security superpower?

19/06/20185 Minute Read

Australian universities, with the backing of many corporate heavy hitters, have set out to establish a beachhead in the network security market—a market forecast to be worth a cool AUD$226 billion by 2020. By the looks of it, the nation is poised to handily capitalise on this initiative.

If you’re scratching your chin right now, wondering how Australia can compete as a major player in the cybersecurity space, then hold on tight: Let’s explore all of Australia’s comparative advantages—of which, there are many.

Australia is raising a new gen of network security experts

At the start of 2016, Sydney University brought together a collection of communications, engineering, IT, law, political science, and sociology academics and launched the Sydney Cybersecurity Network. This network sought to get academia, industry, and governments collaborating to “[build] a new community that is capable of integrating knowledge and thus advancing research.”

Thanks to the Sydney Cybersecurity Network, the government saw the potential and supersized it. In February 2018, the NSW state government announced it was ponying up AUD$2 million for a NSW Cybersecurity Network. This network will comprise engineers, scientists, and other experts employed by the universities of Newcastle, NSW, Sydney, Western Sydney, and Wollongong, as well as UTS and Macquarie. It will identify solutions to emerging cybersecurity challenges, develop a skilled cybersecurity workforce, and provide industry with strategic and operational advice on cybersecurity threats. Announcing the funding, the minister for Finance, Services, and Property hailed “some of the country’s best and brightest researchers” joining forces to “ensure systems within government and the private sector are resilient and fit for purpose.”

It’s not just universities training up a new generation of cybersecurity experts: In January 2018, it was announced that selected TAFEs around the country would begin offering both an Advanced Diploma and Certificate IV in cybersecurity. A number of the selected organisations helped design the new courses, as well. The federal minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity said that encouraging the vocational education system to provide cybersecurity training would “ensure a safe online environment for citizens and business [and] drive new jobs in a growing Australian industry.”

Human capital and geography are two major pros

Australia may not have a tech workforce big enough to have a finger in every digital pie, but it has a deep enough bench to target—and potentially dominate—a handful of niches. Sydney University’s deputy vice-chancellor noted, “Australia’s research capacity has the potential to play a critically important role in solving contemporary challenges, such as cybersecurity“.

Most cybersecurity work is done in the United States, but the majority of the world’s internet users live in the Asia-Pacific region. Australian companies, entrepreneurs, governments, and universities have strong commercial, intellectual, and institutional relationships with their counterparts throughout the booming Asia-Pacific region—plus, an increasing number of Australians have family connections to China and India.

Australians play nice—an advantage in disguise

US companies and government departments will continue to have bigger individual cybersecurity budgets than their Australian equivalents, but the NSA (or CIA or DOD) isn’t about to share the love and pass on their cybersecurity innovations. Likewise, while individual tech behemoths might invest in protecting their own social networks, search engines, and online marketplaces, they aren’t likely to brainstorm with competitors.

Given the small size of their domestic market, Australians have long been forced to take a more collaborative approach. This has led to private businesses working with others in their industry, and the private sector often working hand in glove with the public sector. While this doesn’t necessarily translate to a game-changing competitive edge, Australia’s academics, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and bureaucrats can work together synergistically to achieve world-changing outcomes.

Think of it this way: Can you imagine China entrusting its state secrets to cybersecurity tech developed in San Francisco or a Russian resource company worried about guarding data about its prospecting activities buying security software developed by a British firm? One of the upsides of Australia is that it’s often perceived as nonthreatening. Australia is seen as an honest broker, giving it the opportunity to sell its network security expertise and products around the world.

There’s plenty of cybersecurity coin to leverage

Like many comparable nations, Australia is tightening its privacy laws and dramatically upping fines for organisations that fail to adequately protect their networks. In Australia, as elsewhere around the world, a lot of money is being thrown at cybersecurity—it was predicted spending on security would rise by at least 20 percent in 2017. It’s unlikely there will be any shortage of domestic or foreign capital available for Australian entrepreneurs, businesses, and research organisations operating in the network security space.

Clearly, Australia could win the cybersecurity future, but the next logical question is: What should the first cab off the IT security rank be? The many academics involved in the NSW Cybersecurity Network might want to start by looking at their own backyard. The IP developed by Australia’s universities is of enormous present and future value. There’s a huge market for dependably impenetrable network security systems for universities—everything from data protection to network security and secure printing.

Also in these academics’ backyard is the literal future of cybersecurity in Australia. It’s estimated that Australia will need to train at least 11,000 security specialists over the next decade. Robust educational programs and encouragement for students of all backgrounds to join those programs are both essential for the long-term success of Australia’s cybersecurity initiatives. This training should be broad and inclusive, covering everything from the importance of secure printing to forward-thinking security tools involving machine learning and AI.

While it can’t be said with much certainty exactly which niche Australia’s cybersecurity future will fall in, it’s clear the future is bright. With investments in the future and the help of universities, Australia has what it needs to make a name in the cybersecurity world.

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