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Australia government launches cybersecurity research grant

A new defence industry support program will recruit small businesses to fight against cyber threats, receiving funding to develop ambitious, game-changing capabilities for the Australian Defence Force.

The Defence Industry Competitive Evaluation Research Agreement (ICERA) will offer Australian small businesses opportunities to investigate innovative and visionary projects that contribute to improving the defence industry’s ability to support Australian Defence Force priorities. Up to $300,000 per proposal will be provided for projects for up to 18 months. The Minister for Defence Industry stated that ICERA is funded through Defence’s Next Generation Technologies Fund, in a new scheme that will provide $36 million over six years.

Australia’s strategic context is changing significantly and the nation’s defence strategy is responding to these changes. This change is something which has been highlighted in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update that was released recently.

The small business sector has an important role in contributing to Defence’s science and technology research priorities that support ADF capability needs. The first focus of the ICERA initiative will target cyber defence and cybersecurity, with later rounds to focus on a range of other priority areas, including integrated intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, medical countermeasures, space and trusted autonomous systems.

Successful projects may be considered for further funding or opportunities through other avenues and mechanisms.

Australia investing in developing cyber skills

Australia is looking well beyond the pandemic and even the near-term when it comes to future-proofing its digital landscape as well as protecting it.

The Australian government has invested more than AU$9 million in Australian Digital Technologies Challenges which provides free online activities for students in Years 3 to 8. As of June 2020, there were 377,000 students enrolled in one or more DT Challenges.

This innovative new initiative is aimed at fostering the cybersecurity workers of the future. Through this programme, school students can learn how to crack a code, build Lego using algorithms, create a virtual pet and write a computer program. The programme provides a series of online activities that are designed to boost student skills in digital technologies (DT) including coding and data interpretation.

The content is aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and the ICT general capability. The initiative is being delivered to schools across the country by the Australian Computing Academy (ACA) at the University of Sydney. The ACA also offers Dive into Code, providing a suite of fun and engaging coding activities for students in Years 3 to 12.

The Associate Professor for the Australian Computing Academy, at The University of Sydney, said learning about digital technologies is an increasingly important skill.  He opined that nearly every aspect of people’s lives has been remade, and is continuing to be remade, by digital technologies.

Currently, the world is living in an era where few people will do just one thing with their careers. Computer science is a highly creative career and students can do a combination of STEM subjects and the humanities if they choose, which can take them into any industry and any career.

The Digital Technologies (DT) Challenges and activities are available free of cost to students in Years 3 to 8 and all teachers in Australian schools. Interested students can start a series of activities that are specifically targeted at the student’s year level, including algorithms, coding, data representation and data interpretation. The activities are designed to be fun and become progressively harder as a student progresses further. An automated marking system provides the student with immediate, intelligent feedback on their progression.

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