UNSW Canberra is planning a cyber militia that can be quickly mobilised to launch offensive attacks.
“We have to be ready for those occasions when we need to take the fight to an enemy,” said Professor Greg Austin of the university’s Australian Centre for Cyber Security. “In the same way that we need torpedoes or bombs or guns or rifles, we need to be able to attack enemy communications and intelligence collection systems.”
Later this year, academics and students at the university will develop options for Australia’s first cyber militia as part of a new teaching program.
“The threats are escalating and the only way to respond to it is to mobilise the rights sort of people in the rights sorts of organisational structure to counter this. We’re going to actually develop a proposal and research on what this looks like.”
The work will cover costing, economic and policy issues, the make-up of the militia and the skills they’ll require.
Launching the Cyber Security Strategy in April, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly acknowledged for the first time that Australia had offensive cyber capabilities.
“Australia’s defensive and offensive cyber capabilities enable us to deter and respond to the threat of cyber attack,” the strategy document said. “Any measures … would be consistent with our support for the international rules-based order and our obligations under international law.”
In February the US Defense Department openly revealed details of its electronic warfare efforts against ISIS for the first time. Last year, the UK announced it was developing the capacity to launch offensive cyber attacks on terrorists.
“The government hasn’t agreed or even put this on the agenda yet, but we believe, based on our studies and what other countries are doing and what the threats look like internationally, that we need this,” said professor Austin.
“War is changing that radically. If you can cut off the enemies command and control systems through some sort of cyber attack then they may not be able to even get to the start line to launch their bombs or their torpedoes.”
Students on the course will also study the hacker armies of Iran and North Korea, the tactics of Anonymous and Wikileaks, and the development of cyber reserve forces in the UK, USA, Israel and Estonia.
Existing courses at UNSW Canberra include cyber adversary tradecraft, reverse engineering of malware, red teaming, information assurance and cyber terrorism.
“Australia is at a historic choice point when it comes to cyber defence,” Austin added. “We will have to build a cyber militia soon, and we need research and debate now on what that looks like”.