Roll Up, Roll Up: Australia Desperately Needs Cyber Security Experts


By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Cyber-crime is on the rise. And we’re all at risk.

In Australia, we have more mobile phones than people. About 84% of all phones are smartphones.  We have a range of devices that connect to the internet – from TVs, to fridges, watches, and of course computers and tablets.

As we become more connected online, the opportunity for security threats becomes greater. Recent examples include the WannaCry self-replicating virus that affected hundreds of thousands of computer users globally last month, and the ‘phishing scam’ which targeted local NAB customers a week or so later.

These cyber threats cost businesses and individuals hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

We’ve embraced technology at a rapid pace, but what’s lagging behind is our ability to protect ourselves online.

 Government at risk

A recent cyber security health check conducted by the Auditor General found that the Australian Tax Office and Immigration Department have a great deal of work to do if they are to have any hope of protected.

And let’s not forget Census 2016 – during which the online poll had to be shut down after international hackers repeatedly disrupted the server. Not only did #censusfail create a major headache for the Federal Government, it rocked public confidence in Australia’s ability to protect itself too.

To add to the risk, recent meta data retention laws mean that online service providers (ISPs) are required to store user data for 2 years – a veritable goldmine for hackers.

It’s not just government departments and ISPs that are in danger. Companies can also find themselves targeted by cyber criminals. According to research by Telstra, security breaches are on the rise – with 60% of businesses experiencing an issue in 2016, compared to just 24% in 2015.

As Australia (and the rest of the world) undergoes digital transformation, and more of our activities occur online, we become increasingly susceptible to fraud, identity theft and other cyber crimes.

Skills shortage

Last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $230 million cyber-security strategy, but IT experts say that funding is not the only problem – there’s a serious skills shortage in this highly specialised area.

Cyber-security experts are currently in hot demand around the globe, but many say that because Australia is not keeping pace with other nations, many of our brightest sparks are heading overseas, including graduates who can get big bucks abroad, and this has left a significant gap in the local market.

A survey conducted by Intel Security last year found that 88 per cent of Aussie IT decision makers believe there is a shortage of cyber-security skills both in their organisation and across the nation.

According to the same survey, 44 per cent said they believed they are susceptible to hackers due to limited cyber-security. Nearly a third said they had already lost proprietary data.

Staying safe

The shortage leaves us all vulnerable, although there are a steps we can take things to protect ourselves online.

These include regularly updating anti-virus software, never disclosing personal details to a person or business that cannot be verified, regularly updating passwords, and using high security settings.

Computer crimes

The law takes computer crimes very seriously.

Part 6 of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 deals with a whole host of activities considered to constitute computer crimes.

Section 308H, for example, prescribes a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for accessing or modifying restricted data that is held in a computer. The maximum penalties are higher if it can be established that the ‘hacker’ intended to commit a further offence through accessing or modifying the data, such as fraud.

The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 also contains a range of offences relating to computer crimes, and the list is ever growing.

But many believe that as technology evolves, new laws will need to be enacted to cover technological advancements – as savvy cyber-criminals find new ways to make a buck.


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