Australian university launches cyber security master's degree

The University of New South Wales in Canberra has launched a master's course in cyber security, strategy and diplomacy

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Canberra will teach a one-year master's degree in cyber security, strategy and diplomacy from February 2016 in a direct response to the growing threat of nation state-led cyber attacks.

The course is intended to offer insights as to the extent of the challenge, and how to develop strategy and diplomatic responses to deal with the threat.

According to Greg Austin, a fellow and visiting professor at the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at UNSW Canberra, Australia is at present almost defenceless against cyber attack.

The news came just hours after an ABC report that Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology’s website had been hacked, probably by China, earlier in  2015. The bureau, which provides essential information for Australians, especially the nation’s farmers, fishing fleet and miners, remained opaque on the issue, issuing a statement declining to comment on security matters.

It claimed that its “systems are fully operational and the bureau continues to provide reliable, o-going access to high-quality weather, climate, water and oceans information to its stakeholders”. But an apparently well-sourced report by the ABC suggested that the bureau was still struggling with the impact of the attack.

The master’s course is intended to provide insights as to how organisations can prepare for and respond to cyber threats.

Austin, who has helped design, and will teach elements of, the online master’s course, said that graduates of the programme would emerge “equipped to begin to understand the very serious dimensions of the adjustments they have to make”.

Read more about cyber security in Australia

He said the need for cyber security extended to every area of the economy, given the fact that the global financial system was now dependent on a secure cyber network. “At the moment, the greatest threat is from nation states. But we are only at the dawn at the creation of their cyber arsenals,” said Austin.

With targets such as electricity and banking networks he said it was likely that in 10 or 20 years there would be a “number of major powers with the ability to totally disable critical infrastructure”.

Monitoring cyber attacks is a substantial global challenge, and in November 2015 Deloitte announced that it had opened a Cyber Intelligence Centre in Sydney as part of a global network. This network will monitor cyber risk at a global, regional and national level – and then work with local organisations to respond to emerging risks.

That sort of tactical response is hugely important, but the master’s course aims to ratchet up strategic responses to the threat.

Austin said there was no degree on offer similar to the master’s in the English-speaking world and, although there was a course at George Washington University in the US, he said that did not explore diplomatic responses to cyber attack, while most other cyber security courses focused on operational technology issues.

UNSW Canberra itself offers two other master’s degrees in this area; one on cyber security that focuses on technical aspects of computer security, such as reverse engineering malware; and a master’s in cybersecurity operations to explore cyber crime and cyber terrorism.

Austin said that the university hoped to attract up to 25 candidates next year, and acknowledged that it would be open to allcomers, and could attract people from the Chinese Army as easily as members of the Australian defence forces. “This is completely open and an opportunity for Australia to educate the wider world on ethical issues. We will be telling the Chinese, or the Americans or the Russians that the negative impacts are going to be greater than what you think you are gaining.”

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