The cyber resilience of Australia’s universities will be a key focus of a new federal government taskforce aimed at addressing foreign interference concerns in the higher education sector.
Education minister Dan Tehan announced the creation of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce on Wednesday to assess the level of foreign interference in universities.
The taskforce will contain 50-50 representation from universities and government agencies like national security organisations and the Department of Education.
One of four key areas of focus for the taskforce is cyber security, with a working group established to ensure universities are “resilient to unauthorised access, manipulation, disruption or damage”.
The cyber security working group will also look to “better manage and protect our networks, as well as detect and respond to cyber security incidents should they occur”.
Earlier this month the vice-chancellors of Australia’s universities received a high-level cyber security briefing from the Australian Signals Directorate.
The briefing covered the latest cyber security risks and providing advice on strengthening cyber security at institutions.
Tehan said the new taskforce would complement other work between Defence, agencies, universities and industry underway to “develop practical, risk-based legislative proposals to address identified gaps in the Defence Trade Controls Act”.
“The Act is designed to prevent the transfer of defence and dual-use technology to those who may use it contrary to Australia’s interests,” he said.
Australia’s top universities welcomed the findings of an independent review into the laws in February that stymied the Defence’s hopes to strengthen the Act with sweeping new technology control powers.
Tehan also said the government was currently working with Universities Australia and the Group of Eight to develop guidelines for universities to address cyber security and foreign interference.
“On cyber security and foreign interference, the sector has responded in a way that demonstrates it is taking the issue very seriously, in line with community concerns,” he said.
“When it comes to foreign interference, we are providing clarity at the intersection of national security, research, collaboration and a university’s autonomy.”