Last online of defence: why is ANZUS prepping for a cyber war?

America and Australia have made moves towards defending against online attacks. Johnson Cameraface

How worried should we be about cyber warfare?

The latest amendment to the ANZUS treaty between the US and Australia, announced at the end of last week suggests it’s a genuine threat to the national security of both nations.

For the first time outside NATO, a defence agreement has acknowledged the internet as a potential battleground.

The treaty extension allows the US and Australia to use technology to cooperate in the event of a large-scale cyber attack.

Nations at risk

Cyber attacks, in all their guises, pose complex problems that reach into new areas for law enforcement, national security and public policy.

Computer network attacks are occurring more frequently, are more sophisticated and are invariably more successful.

The continued uptake of internet-enabled devices (tablet computers, smart phones, laptops and so on) by governments, businesses and citizens means the content on such devices and networks has become more valuable. And cyber security is becoming more vulnerable across the globe.

Last year, in an interview with AFR Magazine, ASIO Director-General David Irvine warned “the whole concept of cyber attack as an act of war” was a serious threat not being seriously considered.

What is cyber warfare?

Cyber warfare is action by one nation to penetrate another’s computer networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.

Several nations have cyber capabilities at a level mature enough to launch an attack on another state.

Such an attack could be state-sanctioned or not.

It could occur through the ambit of a sole hacker with criminal intent, it could be espionage or it could come in the form of state-sponsored cyber weapons capable of destroying critical infrastructure.

Intelligence factor

In battle, information is an important enabler.

Shaun Tandon/AFP