Following a year of prolific cyber attacks on Australian Universities, a new federal government taskforce will address resilience against foreign interference.
Containing equal representation from universities and government agencies, the University Foreign Interference Taskforce will have a core focus on ensuring universities are “resilient to unauthorised access, manipulation, disruption or damage”.
The cyber security working group will also look to “better manage and protect our networks, as well as detect and respond to cyber security incidents should they occur”, as reported by ITNews.
The task force’s four strategic focus areas encompass:
- Cyber security – to ensure Australia’s ecosystem is resilient to unauthorised access, manipulation, disruption or damage; and to better manage and protect our networks, as well as detect and respond to cyber security incidents should they occur.
- Research and intellectual property – to deter and detect deception, undue influence, unauthorised disclosure or disruption to our research, intellectual property and research community, while protecting academic freedom.
- Foreign collaboration – to ensure collaboration with foreign entities will be transparent, undertaken with full knowledge and consent, and in a manner that avoids harm to Australia’s interests.
- Culture and communication – to foster a positive security culture through engagement with government and the broader community to educate, uplift awareness and improve research and cyber resiliency.
The announcement comes two years after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation warned of an “insidious threat” and growing concerns over Chinese targeting Australian campuses.
Despite the foreign targeting, Education Minister Dan Tehan says the government will continue to nurture the relationship between Australian and international education facilities.
“The Australian university sector and the broader Australian community benefit significantly from the presence of international students and collaboration with international researchers and scholars,” he said in the lead up to the announcement at the AFR Higher Education Summit in Brisbane.
“It is because of these benefits that we see from international engagement that I have asked the sector to work closely with the government to ensure that universities have the strongest defences in place to protect their information and people.”
Cyber attacks this year have affected universities including Australian National University and Australian Catholic University.
Since the breach came to light, ANU has released an Incident Report, detailing the attack and several points of response including:
- The requirement for increased phishing awareness across campus
- Development of a risk management strategy in line with legislative requirements
- Hardening of the ANU primary mail server
- Two-factor authentication will be accelerated and legacy authentication removed
Universities are working conscientiously on initiatives to enhance their cyber resilience and embed threat mitigation protocols.
While education facilities are committing to cyber security on an individual basis, the time has come for Australian universities, in collaboration with government, to develop a unified approach to combating threats to cyber integrity and protect the interests of Australian education. All eyes are currently on the task force to hear what it will be.