Australia’s inaugural International Cyber Engagement Strategy: global in perspective, regional in focus

Author: Dr Tobias Feakin, Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs

The growing complexity of cyberspace means cyber affairs are increasingly significant in international relations. Australia’s inaugural International Cyber Engagement Strategy champions an open, free and secure cyberspace. The forward leaning Strategy recognises the breadth of international cyber issues and adopts a comprehensive and coordinated approach led by the Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs. The ambitious agenda is complemented by capacity building and creative partnerships between governments and the private sector, with a view to promote regional prosperity and a peaceful and stable online environment.

Cyber Affairs

We live in the most interconnected era in human history. Instantaneous communications, transactions, and access to information keep our economies growing, infrastructure working, governments enabled and people connected. The connections between governments, businesses and individuals are more significant than ever before.

As the complexity of cyberspace is growing, cyber affairs demand increased international attention and cooperation. We must actively engage with the international community, as exciting opportunities emerge, critical debates unfold and global rules are agreed.

Australia’s Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP and Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs Dr. Tobias Feakin at the launch of the International Cyber Engagement Strategy.

Australia’s Response

Australia recognises this important opportunity and challenge. Our standing as a responsible contributor to the international community gives us a platform to engage in constructive conversations on cyber policy issues with global partners. Active participation in global cyber cooperation efforts affords Australia a leading international role in shaping the future of cyberspace.

Australia’s first International Cyber Engagement Strategy (the Strategy) articulates Australia’s cyber affairs agenda to the world. The Strategy outlines the principles, interests and goals that guide Australia’s international engagement on cyber issues.

Australia embraces an innovatively broad approach to international cyber issues. The Strategy presents Australia’s public and private sector pursuit of an open, free and secure Internet across seven distinct areas. Together, these themes comprise Australia’s comprehensive and coordinated cyber affairs agenda, led by the Ambassador for Cyber Affairs:

  1. Digital trade: the digital technology revolution is fundamentally a story of prosperity. Increasingly, cyberspace acts as an economic enabler. Australia will shape an enabling environment for digital trade and promote trade and investment opportunities for digital goods and services.  
  2. Cyber security: the spread of digital technologies creates profound economic opportunities, but simultaneously creates new vulnerabilities. Governments and the private sector working together to develop a strong cyber security posture is essential to ensuring we can all safely capitalise on the benefits of increasing connectivity.
  3. Cybercrime: Improving cyber security is an important way of mitigating the risk of cybercrime. Left unchecked, criminal use of the Internet threatens to undermine the economic opportunities offered by the digital domain. Collaboration with international partners and assistance to countries in our region improves their capacity to address cybercrime, which will improve worldwide cybercrime prevention and prosecution mechanisms.
  4. International security & cyberspace: Developments in cyberspace have created a new arena in which states can exert influence. We will cooperate with international partners to deter and respond to cyber activity that endangers a stable and peaceful online environment. Reaffirming the application of international law adhering to norms of responsible behaviour, and implementing confidence-building measures in cyberspace will shape it as a landscape for international cooperation and mutual benefit.
  5. Internet governance & cooperation: A multi-stakeholder approach, which places all stakeholders on an equal footing in Internet governance debates, best facilitates an open, free and secure Internet. Better multi-stakeholder cooperation domestically, regionally and internationally will preserve decentralised control of the Internet, allowing all voices to be heard when decisions over the policy and technical management of the Internet are made.
  6. Human rights & democracy online: The Internet itself has provided an unparalleled opportunity for democratic participation and the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights. Governments, the private sector, civil society and academia must continue to work together to uphold and defend human rights online, just as they do offline. This contributes to lasting peace, security, freedom and dignity for all.
  7. Technology for development: Digital technologies act as enablers of sustainable development and inclusive economic growth. However, dividends of the digital age are currently not evenly experienced. Australian efforts to increase connectivity and help countries harness digital technologies safely will accelerate the attainment of sustainable development objectives in the region.

Australia’s approach to international cyber issues is also underpinned by cross-cutting concepts of partnership, a regional focus and capacity building.

Australia’s Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, launched Australia’s first International Cyber Engagement Strategy on 4 October

Australia’s Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, launched Australia’s first International Cyber Engagement Strategy on 4 October

Creative Partnerships

Australia’s ambitious cyber affairs agenda is impossible to achieve alone. This is a shared challenge and a shared responsibility.  All of our efforts, both globally and regionally, will be delivered in partnership, harnessing unique and complementary skills of other countries, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The Indo-Pacific

The Strategy has a strong Indo-Pacific focus. Collaborating with countries all over the world forms the foundation of our cyber posture, but our diverse neighbourhood is where we can have the greatest impact. Australia’s regional knowledge, trusted national brand, strategic economic and security interests and long-standing development partnerships leave us well placed to influence the evolution of cyber affairs in the Indo-Pacific region.

Capacity Building

Australia is significantly increasing its investment in regional capacity building across all of the Strategy’s themes. This will improve confidence in the online environment, increase economic opportunities, reduce financial losses to cybercrime, minimise the regional risks of strategic miscalculation, promote multi-stakeholder Internet governance, protect human rights online and deliver sustainable development outcomes.

Australia’s International Cyber Engagement Strategy presents a forward leaning pursuit of an open, free and secure cyberspace. Our cyber cooperation and capacity building will promote regional prosperity and ensure we all continue to benefit from a peaceful and secure online environment. 

This article first appeared in the fourth issuse of the Global Cyber Expertise Magazine - November 2017