Giving REDSPICE bite: Why strengthening Australia’s cyber capability demands unprecedented ASD-university collaboration
The Australian Government’s REDSPICE blueprint, released with last week’s 2022-23 budget, will significantly increase the Australian Signals Directorate’s (ASD) cyber and intelligence capabilities.
With funding of $9.9b over the next decade, it’s a serious and necessary response to the need to bolster security not just in our region, but globally—and to do so equitably with our partners in the Five Eyes intelligence community.
At its heart, REDSPICE (Resilience, Effects, Defence, SPace, Intelligence, Cyber, Enablers) is about protecting Australia’s sovereignty—its ability to determine its own destiny. The blueprint charts a path for ASD to enhance its signals intelligence; develop increased offensive cyber capabilities; harden critical systems with defensive cyber techniques; and develop resilience within ASD itself.
It’s an exciting and innovative initiative. But as ASD leaders recognise, they won’t be able to achieve their aspirations on their own. The planned creation of 1,900 new roles, as outlined in the budget, is just the tip of the iceberg, and will require sufficient individuals with the right expertise and the ability to meet ASD’s strict personnel security requirements. To be successful, ASD will need to leverage expertise in other sectors, including universities; and it will need to take these relationships beyond the simple ‘connections’ spoken about in REDSPICE.
Enabling deep university collaboration
To collaborate meaningfully, ASD will need to reset its organisational boundaries, which will require effort and resources. There will be entrenched organisational structures that constrain collaboration, and which will need to be overcome.
ASD staff will need to identify academics who they want to work with and bring them ‘into the fold’, rather than keeping them at arm’s length. This needs to be done with caution, and trust needs to be built on both sides.
In turn, universities will need to commit to supporting REDSPICE by actively engaging with ASD, and developing graduates with depth in key areas and who meet ASD’s security requirements. There is risk here for some universities, which may have to sacrifice student numbers in some courses to grow this sovereign capability; but getting these foundations in place will open up still more exciting possibilities.
From deep collaboration to ‘audacious’ partnership
Using the blueprints’ own terminology, how could ASD be audacious in the ways it collaborates with universities? Well, it could bring in academics to work alongside ASD analysts, either as academic fellows or on secondments. This has been used to good effect within other parts of the Five Eyes community. ASD would need to support academics to gain the necessary clearances, of course, and not all academics would want to take this route, but some would embrace it.
From an educational perspective, it’s perhaps time for universities to specialise in different areas of cyber security rather than try to do everything. While generalists are needed in many areas of industry, ASD needs deep, technical specialists in computer science, maths, data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), coupled with skills in problem-solving, creativity and innovation. Courses will need to be designed for ASD’s specific needs, and it may be that partnerships can be formed to co-construct niche courses.
At the University of Adelaide, we’ve already started on this route. We take pride in the technical depth of our research and teaching in computer science, and combine this with our expertise in mathematics, AI and ML, all of which are integrated in our Australian Institute of Machine Learning. We look forward to helping develop the ASD’s next generation of cyber and intelligence professionals, and contributing to the achievement of REDSPICE’s critical goals.
Professor Debi Ashenden
Defence, Science and Technology Group–University of Adelaide Joint Chair in Cyber Security
School of Computer Science
Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology