Australia: In a digital age: Are you cyber secure (from a risk of cybercrime)?

Clayton Utz Insights

Key Points:

Whether you're a public or private sector enterprise, cyber security measures are a critical factor for your enterprise.

Cybercrime is a risk to anyone connected to the internet. We all hear of personal risks from cyber attacks, such as fraud, identity theft, cyber bullying, child sexual exploitation and child grooming, but enterprises are at risk too from fraud, theft or business disruption.

To manage these risks, it is important for the enterprise to understand its cyber risk profile and implement an appropriate compliance program to help to reduce potential liability from an incident. Addressing the numerous disruptive and interrelated trends across the organisation's entire IT landscape is also particularly important for the efficient management of costs.

In this article we'll focus on government Agencies, but the lessons are equally relevant to business enterprises.

What's an Agency's or business' online environment look like?

Agencies and businesses alike are increasingly moving towards hybrid enterprise environments that mix non-cloud, internal and external IT service delivery models, with a growing focus on cloud environments.

They are also increasing using different platforms and environments, including mobiles, tables, laptops and desktop computers, often with multiple devices per user.

An effective cyber security strategy therefore needs to protect data within a multitude of platforms and environments, and to ensure governance, risk and compliance is addressed across the full, integrated environment where applications and data may be highly virtualised across the end-to-end infrastructure.

The Government's initiatives to tackle cyber risks

The Australian Government has commenced a number of initiatives to improve the safety and security of the general online environment.

CERT Australia works closely with Agencies and major Australian businesses by providing cyber security advice and support to critical infrastructure and other systems of national interest. It also houses the Trusted Information Sharing Network, which provides an environment where business and government can share information on security issues relevant to the protection and resilience of critical infrastructure, and the continuity of essential services.

The development of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ASCS) was announced in January 2013. The ASCS will broadly amalgamate the various multi-Agency cyber operations into one centre, with CERT Australia to analyse the nature and extent of cyber threats and lead the Government's response to cyber incidents.

Agencies and risk management generally

The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) emphasises the need for risk management(s). Agencies are responsible for protecting their assets and information from cyber-attacks. To do so, they should:

  • establish an appropriate information security culture;
  • implement security measures that match the information's value, classification and sensitivity; and
  • adhere to relevant legal requirements.

There are also specific obligations in the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF) and the Information Security Manual (ISM), with the PSPF requiring Agencies to:

"document and implement operational procedures and measures to ensure information, ICT systems and network tasks are managed securely and consistently, in accordance with the level of required security. This includes implementing the mandatory 'Strategies to Mitigate Targeted Cyber Intrusions' as detailed in the Australian Government Information Security Manual."

The PSPF makes implementation of the ICT protective security controls detailed in the ISM mandatory to meet the Australian Signals Directorate's Top 4 Strategies, which are:

  • application whitelisting;
  • patching applications (such as PDF readers, Microsoft Office, Java, Flash Player and web browsers);
  • patching operating system vulnerabilities and using the latest versions; and
  • minimising administrative privileges.

Cyber security and Agencies' procurement

Under the PSPF, all procurement business cases for ICT-enabled proposals to Government must identify how cyber security risks will be managed and how the proposal will comply with the relevant Government cyber security policies.

AGIMO's ICT Business Case Guide includes fields which prompt Agencies to provide a summary of the security design and delivery requirements of the project, including likely impacts on physical and personnel security requirements, roles and responsibilities and assessment (including certification) and accreditation, including to explain how the option aligns with the Government's policies on cyber security and information security.

We anticipate further emphasis on security features of ICT products and services being procured, including to cater for "continuous improvement" aspects of security features and design. This will go beyond the traditional "virus protection" contractual requirements to address new and evolving forms of cyber security issues. These are already including the use of intrusion detection systems, reflecting that firewalls and spam filters are not always effective in preventing or detecting sophisticated attacks.

There will also be additional emphasis on the "supply chain" associated with provision of ICT products and services, whereby contractors will be required to provide detailed information about their suppliers, including their input into and level of access of the ICT product or service being provided.

How supply chains will be addressed is not clear as Agencies move to a bring-your-own device program. Agencies will need to remain vigilant in this space, and there may be a need for a whole-of-government approach to supply chain disclosures to ensure smaller Agencies with less leverage have the opportunity to negotiate disclosure terms and conditions, along with associated security requirements, into their technology contracts.

Common security standards and clearances will also assist Agencies assess the security threat associated with access to and use of their information.

The interaction of information security governance and corporate governance

Organisations should ensure that their information security governance framework aligns with their corporate governance process. This requires a thorough understanding of the gaps and overlaps between cyber security and other security domains. ISO/IEC 27032:2012 provides guidance for improving cyber security, including drawing out its dependencies on other security domains (including information security, network security, internet security and critical information infrastructure protection).
A cyber security governance structure must clearly define the stakeholders and their roles, including to provide guidance and escalation processes for addressing cyber security issues. It will also require a framework to enable stakeholders to collaborate on resolving cyber security issues. A key component of this is effective reporting on cyber security issues. In this regard, monitoring should be proactive and continuous to enable situational awareness across the physical and logical security landscape.

Basic steps to protect yourself from cyber attacks

While no security program will prevent all cyber problems, cyber security measures manage this risk and are a critical factor for your enterprise. At a day-to-day level to protect against cyber attacks, enterprises should adopt basic compliance measures including as noted by CERT Australia:

  • keeping software patches up-to-date and use supported versions of software;
  • back up critical data;
  • use unique passwords across the system;
  • use effective firewalls and anti-harmful code software;
  • don't just have single user administrator level accounts;
  • train staff on safe online practices;
  • secure remote access services; and
  • protect critical information.

A further key defence is the development and maintenance of up-to-date business continuity plans, including development of alternative communication paths for critical business operations. This also needs to address the consequences of indirect cyber-attacks, such as the unavailability of power, due to attacks on third party providers. Enterprises need to assess the true business impact of cyber incidents, and co-ordinate touch points and response procedures from both a business and IT perspective.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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