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New cybersecurity initiatives rolled out in Australia

The various state governments of Australia have rolled out cybersecurity initiatives in an attempt to sure-up the country’s digital security infrastructure. The first of these the annual cybersecurity survey of the Australian Signals Directorate which covers compliance with the Essential Eight threat mitigation strategies. The survey, which is mandatory for all non-corporate Commonwealth entities to complete, also covers cyber threats and an organisation’s cybersecurity culture.

The ASD is urging all corporate Commonwealth entities and Commonwealth companies to respond to the survey as well, though it is not mandatory. All departmental CISOs have received a link to the survey via the ASD’s government portal. The survey will be open until 30 October 2020.

Survey respondents will receive individual reports detailing their entity’s results in late 2020, while key findings from the aggregated data analysis will be released to Commonwealth entities in March 2021.

In another initiative, a collaboration between defence and industry has improved the ability for analysts to search for and assimilate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data.

The Wagardi Mission System is a new computer user interface that searches across multiple ISR databases, delivering information to the warfighter that is more complete in a reduced timeframe. The Chief of Joint Capabilities stated that the project is an important investment in sovereign capability.

The Wagardi Mission System is being delivered in partnership with an Australia-based science and technology solutions leader and is part of the first tranche of Joint Project 2096 – ISR Integration. The system will improve the ability for personnel to provide complete information, in a reduced timeframe, to support operations.

Once complete, the project will have invested around $450 million in the Australian industry, providing opportunities across a number of sectors. The initial operating capability was recently declared for the Wagardi Mission System, on budget and three months ahead of schedule.

This offers Australian industry opportunities in development and integration services, data analytics and ICT support, and includes the addition of 65 new jobs for a development and support centre. The word ‘Wagardi’ (meaning ‘dilly bag’) comes from the language used by the Larrakia people — the traditional custodians of the Darwin region.

These measures come just in time as Public Health England recently blamed a technical gaffe traced to potentially outdated Excel spreadsheets on a debacle which led to 48,000 people failing to be told to self-isolate after having close contact with patients testing positive to COVID-19.

The failure of the contact tracing system led to nearly 16,000 COVID-19 positive patients not being included in the daily reported cases. According to an advisory, over 75% of these cases should have been reported between 30 September and 2 October 2020.

While in all of the excluded cases, people received their test result as normal and were told to self-isolate, the cases were not transferred to the contact tracing system until 3 October, after the gaffe had been discovered.

The Labour Health spokesman has estimated that at least 48,000 people should have been contacted last week and told to self-isolate if the positive tests had been referred to the contact tracing system as intended.

The advisory states that mitigation has been put in place that splits large files and a full end-to-end review of all systems have also been instigated to mitigate the risk of this happening again. But the disclosure has led to questions about why government authorities are storing critical health data in Excel spreadsheets, to begin with.

Thus, it is critical that Australia’s cybersecurity infrastructure is up-to-date and secure to handle the new threats posed directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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