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Joining forces to battle online threats

Posted on 4th July 2019 at 09:42am

Australia and the United States are working together in a new cybersecurity centre at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. Researchers will work with US partners to improve the capacity of governments and industry to respond to cyber challenges and threats.

Former US Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich has had Flinders University's new cyber security centre named in his honour. Photo: Brenton Edwards.

The Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security and Governance was launched in June, following the release of the 2019 Lowy Institute Annual Poll which ranks cybersecurity as the most significant threat to Australia’s vital interests after climate change. It is named after the former special counsel to US President Barack Obama and Ambassador to Australia from 2009 to 2013. It will examine areas of mutual concern between Australia and the US in a bid to combat the use of digital technologies to undermine trust and security in democratic societies.

The centre is the first research centre in Australia to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to social science through a combination of technology, security and governance. Through research, it will attempt to tackle foreign interference in democratic elections, the proliferation of fake news and threats to national security.

According to Ambassador Bleich, the disruptive costs of the digital revolution on democracy include deliberate efforts to impair individual, corporate and government decision-making through corrupt, distorted, or false information campaigns. “We know that the advent of digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we each work, eat, shop, and live. But it has also changed our societies and how we defend ourselves,” he says.

Explaining the mission and rationale behind the Jeff Bleich Centre, he says: “Our nations - both separately and together - must operate in new ways to preserve our values and protect our people and allies in new battle spaces. Flinders is the ideal home for the centre with its long-term track record in American studies, its focus on disruptive technologies, and its successful binational programs.”

Flinders University Vice Chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling, hopes that the centre will create opportunities for industry, particularly defence, government and NGOs to work with the university to address cybersecurity issues. He explains: “The Jeff Bleich Centre will undertake research to identify reforms, including regulatory models, that preserve the gains of the digital revolution, but enhance the protection of democratic freedoms, and restore trust in the institutions of democratic societies.”

Stirling concludes: “The centre aligns with the South Australian and Federal Governments’ cyber security plans and will further strengthen South Australia’s position as Australia’s defence state. It will consolidate Flinders University’s research expertise and strengths in digital technologies, security and governance, and build upon Flinders’ existing strengths in US policy studies and the university’s strong US alliance.”

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