The Australian government is recruiting small businesses to join the fight against cyber threats, while at the same time, accelerating its burgeoning cybersecurity industry.
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said the country’s small businesses, particularly those involved in the defence industry, will receive funding to develop “ambitious, game-changing capabilities” for the Australian Defence Force.
Under the program (Industry Competitive Evaluation Research Agreement or ICERA) a small business will be eligible to receive $300,000 if their proposal is accepted.
“Australia’s strategic context is changing significantly and our defence strategy is responding to these changes,” Price said, pointing to the recently released Strategic Update, which was created in response to Beijing’s increased posturing in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Our small business sector has a more important role than ever in contributing to Defence’s science and technology research priorities that support ADF capability needs,” Price said.
“Which is why I welcome that the first focus of the ICERA initiative is targeting on cyber defence and cyber security,” she added.
Later rounds of ICERA are expected to focus on other priority areas, including surveillance and reconnaissance, medical countermeasures (against potential public health emergencies), space, and trusted autonomous systems (including drones).
Despite the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown, the federal government has continued to invest heavily in the defence industry.
The new Strategic Update saw the federal government ramp up its defence spending to $270 billion (US$196 billion) over a ten-year period. Following the announcement, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds warned of increased risks from grey zone activities—such as foreign interference and cyberattacks.
AustCyber estimated a month-long cyberattack on Australia could cost the economy $30 billion and over 163,000 jobs (mostly in the private sector).
Small to medium businesses were found to be particularly vulnerable to cyber threats including malware, scam emails, ransomware, and phishing attacks.
Matt Warren, professor of cybersecurity at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, told The Epoch Times on Aug. 19, that the announcement would go towards creating a secure “ecosystem” for start-ups, and small to medium businesses.
“The government identified that small to medium enterprises as a whole were the weakest link in Australia’s cyber defences” he said.
“The announced program allows Australian enterprises to work with defence, to build new relationships, understand the cybersecurity problems that Australian Defence faces, and build future partnerships,” he added.
The program would also have the intended side-effect of accelerating Australia’s cybersecurity industry which sold $3.9 billion (US$2.8 billion) worth of products and services in 2018. An 8 percent increase on the previous year.
The Indo-Pacific is currently a hotspot for cyberattacks, with a recent report identifying a significant number of businesses in the region looking for cybersecurity solutions.