Australia’s defence forces against global hacking converged on a Canberra battleground last week, with the Department of Human Services triumphant in the government’s first Cyber War Games.

Cybersecurity experts from ten government agencies battled it out in a series of challenges based on real scenarios to determine which team could outwit hackers trying to penetrate the faux facilities of a Lego town.

The Cyber War Games were designed to develop the readiness of federal government agencies to respond to genuine cyber security attacks, according to architect of the games and Department of Human Services Chief Information Security Officer Narelle Devine.

“The skills that they learned in that space they can take back to any of their agencies, and they'll be hopefully better defenders for it,” Devine said.

The Australian Taxation Office was an early leader of the week’s cyber combat, but was chased down by DHS, which managed to edge out the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to gain victory.

Despite the excitement of the contest, these were games with a serious purpose. The training range was built to mimic a township with motorised parts, and teams took turns to cyber attack or protect the infrastructure using hacking tools available online. It was a chance for the good guys to understand how adversaries can act.

“So when they're defending they can put that same lens on and they can think about what the art of the possible is for getting into our own systems,” Devine said.

“The aim is they become better defenders as they learn how to attack and how each of these exploits truly works, how they can be modified and how they can be used.”

Bringing the agencies together was also an opportunity to develop the nation’s rapid response network.

“Building those relationships for us is imperative because when there really is a major cyber incident it's important for the Australian Government to stand as one united front. We can all help each other far more quickly, we can share intelligence and we can hopefully be better defenders of the whole government.”

The Australian Government has been successfully targeted by hackers, most spectacularly with last year’s #CensusFail, and is working to increase the security of critical infrastructure. Last week, it announced an investment of $50 million over the next seven years to establish the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre in collaboration with industry, research and government partners.

Other agencies that took part in the Cyber War Games were the Australian Criminal Investigation Commission, Australian Federal Police, Department of Health, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Attorney-General’s Department, Digital Transformation Agency, and Department of Defence.

The Australian Digital Health Agency’s recently established Cyber Security Centre didn’t send a team, but it’s Chief Information Security Officer and General Manager Anthony Kitzelmann took part as an adjudicator.




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