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Op-Ed: Hmm-ish — Australia will acquire Microsoft ‘cyber shield’ — Then what?

Let’s hope it doesn’t take forever as usual.

Hacks have increased through the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. — © AFP/File Noel Celis
Hacks have increased through the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. — © AFP/File Noel Celis

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced in Washington that Microsoft will build a national “cyber shield” for Australia. The idea is to assist with developing Australia’s woefully underdeveloped digital economy. Presumably, it’s also to finally do something about the constant cyber attacks and hacks, too.

Like most Australian sectors at any time in history, we have the skills and the ideas. We could create tens of thousands of new economic initiatives. The IP alone would dwarf the cost of the $5 billion we’re paying for this initiative.

Economically, it’s also a gut-level fundamental improvement in policy. We’ve spent decades with horrendous internet speeds and legacy risks that nobody in government previously seemed to understand. We have genuine opportunities, and a lot of them, but the Old Economy mindset is pervasive as well as perverse.

We also have arguably the least digitally sensitive corporate sector imaginable with the odd exception. This is the major mental burden of any insular middle-class country.

You know the story – Someone invents the wheel, then some inconsiderate bastard finds a use for the thing. Then people have to be conscious, or whatever they’re pretending to be. It must be very confusing.

More importantly, the idea of a sort of Iron Dome for cybersecurity has some interesting possibilities. Given the apparent inability of the entire global security sector to simply achieve “no .exe”, all else follows. Perish the thought that our Sacred Online Criminals should be in any way inconvenienced.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea. The question is how this will work and whether it will work. Australia has had some pretty bad hacks in the last few years, one of which I’m involved in a class action about.

Albanese was pretty much inevitably asked whether this shield was aimed at China. Actually, it’s aimed at a sort of abyss of vulnerabilities, not just one, anyway.

This is a bit of a major departure for Microsoft, too. There’s not a lot of detail yet, understandably, about what this shield will be and its structuring. It’s an ambitious idea, and it plugs in directly into a country where absolutely everything is online.

With AI fluttering around like a hysterical lost moth in the cyber economy, it’s a good basic move to try to deal with an obvious new horizon of security issues. The current generation of AI is pretty flimsy and clunky at best. There are bound to be new vulnerabilities nobody’s invented yet.

Microsoft is reported to be in talks to invest $10 billion in OpenAI to challenge Google’s world dominating search engine. — © AFP

The most critical thing about the shield idea is that it will at least theoretically give Australia an integrated system to work with. Obviously, it will evolve. Different threats will have to be managed. System tweaks will probably be daily or hourly. The shield may work, but what about the people? Shouldn’t be too hard to sell security to business, surely?

It’s a very good idea that shouldn’t be in any sense a political football. There’s far too much at stake. It’s all about obsolete mindsets vs practical solutions. Let’s hope it doesn’t take forever as usual.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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