Jurisdiction - Australia
Australia – Cyber Security Emphasised As Priority In Defence White Paper.

18 September, 2013


Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia – TMT




  • The Defence White Paper demonstrates the importance the Government is placing on managing the risks posed by cyber threats. The Government recognises the benefits of having the upper hand when it comes to cyber security and is seeking collaboration with the private sector to help strengthen Australia’s defensive and offensive capabilities.
  • The White Paper describes the role of the private sector in the Government’s development of cyber capabilities as a partnership, but does not specify how this partnership will operate.
  • Cyber security is not restricted to a warfare priority in the White Paper, but is described as a capacity that is also critical in peacetime to protect and build confidence in national security, economic prosperity and social wellbeing.


In a world where globalisation and new technologies are creating more prolific and rapid flows of information than ever before, it is little surprise that the Federal Government’s Defence White Paper, released on 3 May 2013, emphasised cyber security as “a serious and pressing national security challenge” and a key priority.1

This latest White Paper demonstrates how the Government’s approach to cyber security has evolved, since the last White Paper four years ago, to not only acknowledge the risks posed by cyber threats, but to recognise the benefits of exploiting cyberspace and establish a public-private framework to manage the risks and develop Australia’s cyber capabilities.

The White Paper emphasises that the potential impact of cyber activity has grown as the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has become increasingly reliant on networked operations and vulnerable to cyber attacks. The White Paper states that, “In a future conflict or escalation to conflict, an adversary could use a cyber attack against Australia to deter, delay or prevent Australia’s response or the ADF’s deployment of forces” and that these attacks or intrusions could include the targeting of information systems, networks and other infrastructure that supports the ADF’s decision-making and fighting capabilities.

The White Paper makes clear however, that despite the threats, the rise of “cyber power” has as many positives as it does negatives. While not defined in the White Paper, “cyber power” is a term increasingly used in military and technology circles to describe “the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in [all] the …operational environments”.2

The effectiveness of Australia’s developing cyber power capabilities are dependent on how well the Government exploits cyber capabilities through partnering with international and private domestic partners. The White Paper does not specify the role that the private sector partners will play in building Australia’s strength in cyber security, but emphasis is placed on the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), which aims to facilitate improved interaction between government and industry partners.


The ACSC was identified in this year’s National Security Strategy as the facilitator of “faster and more effective responses to serious cyber incidents” by bringing together the Government’s security community in a single body.3 Exactly how these partnerships will operate remains to be seen and the White Paper does not expand on how the ACSC will facilitate this interaction.

The White Paper diverges from the emphasis on “cyber warfare” in the 2009 Defence White Paper,4 to place emphasis on a “whole-of-nation” approach to cyber security. It recognises that “Australia’s national security, economic prosperity and social wellbeing now depend on the internet and the security of information”. The White Paper also recognises that the security of commercial, government and private information is integral in ensuring confidence in Australia both domestically and internationally.

It is clear both from the White Paper and the National Security Strategy that the Government will need to determine how to effectively enforce legal frameworks within the digital environment. Both documents state that Australia will be working with international partners to promote a common understanding of existing international law as it applies to cyberspace, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.

This view that established principles of international law apply to cyberspace is a view shared by most countries. The approach echoes the views conveyed by the US Department of State,5 that international law relating to armed conflict anticipates technological changes and contemplates that existing rules will apply to new technologies. The challenge for Australia and its international partners will therefore be to build certainty around how established legal principles apply to cyberspace.6

While there is clearly more to be done to boost Australia’s cyber power, the White Paper demonstrates the evolution in the Government’s approach to cyber security. Foreshadowed is the development of a comprehensive cyber partnership between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to address mutual threats emerging from cyberspace and of continued investment in cyber research, technology and analytical capabilities to ensure that Australia retains its edge in cyberspace. It will be interesting to see how the collaborative, partnership approach of the ACSC plays out in working towards these aims.



2 Dr. Stuart H. Starr, “Towards an Evolving Theory of Cyberpower” (2009) NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence website, 

4 http://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper2009/docs/defence_white_paper_2009.pdf

5 Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Advisor U.S. Department of State, “International Law in Cyberspace” (2012) Remarks at USCYBERCOM Inter-Agency Legal Conference, Ft. Meade, MD, 18 September 2012, http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/197924.htm
6 http://www.state.gov/s/l/releases/remarks/197924.htm


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