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Op-Ed: Maintaining the integrity and security of individual cyber systems

With more and more of us working remotely and ever more dependent upon the cyber domain, maintaining the integrity and security of individual systems and the growing system-of-systems is becoming increasingly important, particularly as potential adversaries, both traditional and asymmetric, seek to compromise security, explains Major General Marcus Thompson, AM.

user iconMAJGEN Marcus Thompson
Mon, 27 Apr 2020
Op-Ed: Maintaining the integrity and security of individual cyber systems
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Over the past few weeks, our home and work lives have been co-existing. Few of us could have imagined how important the digital world would become amid global crisis in the physical world.

Right now, the nation’s digital architecture is sustaining us all, and there’s unlimited social media content to inform, entertain and distract in between the work and home routine.

At the same time, our current situation provides new opportunities for cyber threat-actors.


As Head of Information Warfare for the Australian Defence Force, I’m one of many voices talking about this issue, and trying to change behaviour – both within the ADF and the broader Australian community. My concern first and foremost is building ADF cyber capability to defend our networks and missions systems, which are as potentially vulnerable to cyber attack as any digital network or system.

But I’m also mindful of our collective cyber security, and how we can all play our part in the defence of the nation.

Like it or not, everyday citizens have become unwitting combatants in cyber space. This is the new battle ground.

The concept of information warfare might be too abstract for many people to understand until you talk to them about fake news, data leaks, hacking, scams, the use of bots to artificially amplify advertising or misinformation, the fight for their private information, and algorithmic influence. It then starts to crystallise.

While you’re connected to the internet – and more broadly, the information environment – you’re part of a domain where information warfare can be almost as effective as kinetic warfare, if not more so.

I’ve recently been asking several questions to elevate my concerns, and generate public discussion.

  • How do we have a meaningful conversation with the public about a contested environment they may know very little about?
  • How do we build national resilience, our ability to recover, towards malign influence and activities in the information environment?
  • And lastly, what is the role of the ADF in a whole-of-government response?

As I’ve consistently (and quite honestly) stated, I don’t necessarily have the answers. But I’m not going to stop asking the questions until the answers, or at least some good ideas, are fired back at me.

I look for any opportunity to have this conversation with anyone who will listen. In the latest Defence Connect Insight odcast, I talked to hosts Phil Tarrant and Steve Kuper about these issues, which have never been more front-of-mind for me.

As we emerged from the national bushfire crisis to be confronted by the global pandemic of COVID-19, our resilience is being tested. The ADF has been called upon in ways not imagined, and we’ve proudly stepped up to help the nation in this time of need.

Our ability to fight on despite incredible odds is a very Australian quality.

This is the quality I’m calling on in the scenario of a large-scale cyber attack, which needs to be lifted from our imagination and firmly fixed in reality.

That resilience, born out of education, collaboration and lessons-learned, is a collective responsibility.

We can only achieve it by working together on the shared challenges posed in cyber space, within our respective roles.

However, and I can’t stress this enough, the most important digital security measures start with individuals.

If you’re not thinking about your online privacy and security then you’re putting yourself, your friends, your family and your workplace at risk.

Question and verify the information you’re seeing online. Review and update your privacy and security settings on all personal devices. And think carefully about the information you freely give away on social media.

If you’re in any doubt about what you need to do, the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Security Tips for Personal Devices is a great place to start.

Like many of you, I am confronted with finding new ways to have this conversation during these challenging times, and it’s given me time to reflect on how we can all learn from our current situation. No doubt many of you are taking the time to read, listen and learn – and I hope my comments are food for thought in this noisy digital world.

Major General Marcus Thompson, AM, has been the Head Information Warfare (HIW) since the Division was established in 2017 under Joint Capabilities Group within the Department of Defence.

He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1988 and spent his early years in the Royal Australian Corps of Signals. He has deployed on a number of overseas operations and commanded at every level from Troop to Brigade.

MAJGEN Thompson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. He holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering with honours from the University of New South Wales, a Bachelor of Business from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a Masters Degree in Defence Studies from the University of Canberra, a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies from Deakin University, and a PhD in Cyber Security from the University of New South Wales.

The full Defence Connect Insight podcast with MAJGEN Thompson is available here.

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