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Australia cyber minister wants Asia to define new global laws of digi-war

Interdependence of nations give the region incentive to go beyond Budapest Convention

Dan Tehan, Australia's minister assisting the prime minister for Cyber Security, says south-east Asian nations are beginning to discuss a joint regional approach to best practise cyber-security, and perhaps even also a new set of rules of engagement for online conflict.

Tehan yesterday delivered a keynote address to the RSA Asia conference in Singapore in which he argued that Asian nations are interdependent to an extraordinary degree, with physical infrastructure in one often critical to its neighbours. That interdependence means that many Asian nations must rely on their neighbours' online defences, both those erected by government and those employed by private sector operators of critical infrastructure.

Tehan said common standards are obviously useful in such a community and said that recent talks with his Singaporean counterpart leads him to believe “there is a real hope we can start to build some regional partnerships in this area.” The minister said he will return to Singapore for the nation's Cyber Week in September 2017, and understands other ministers with cyber-security responsibility from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will also be in attendance to discuss such matters.

“It is absolutely key that we can get get norms developed and it is my view that in the region we can lead the way hopefully,” Tehan told The Register. “A committed framework for practice would be a good start, but then if we could take it into the behavioural space that would be very good as well.”

Tehan explained that “behavioural” refers to conflicts.

“When it comes to traditional warfare you have the UN security council you have the Geneva Conventions you have very formal structures in place,” he said. “At this stage cyberspace is still fairly ungoverned when it comes to laws and norms. This is something we do need to get on top of.”

Tehan said he feels Asia's interconnectedness and rapid pace of growth creates “a real self-interest in the region to be a leader in developing the norms.”

“We have got the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, but what we need is something to light a fire under that and give it some impetus by getting something going regionally.

“It is not going to be easy but there is no reason we cannot lead.”

Tehan also briefly addressed Australia's recent decision to seek access to encrypted messaging apps, by saying the policy “comes from the fundamental premise that every government has an absolute obligation to do everything it can to keep its citizens safe” and aligns with similar policies in the UK and beyond. The minister said Australia's efforts will focus on working with vendors, as “they have the innovation, the technology, the know-how, and we want to work co-operatively with them.”

The minister's keynote concluded with a call for Asian nations to reap a cyber-dividend from their security efforts, with the payoff coming in the form of thriving cyber-defence industries that create jobs and help citizens, business and governments alike to avoid attacks and disruptions. ®

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