I’m not one for conspiracy theories but I just can’t get the idea out of my head that the Federal Government’s decision to go it alone with the NBN was because of cyber security concerns. No, not because of China and Russia directly, but because it will help our own national security.
Consider these points:
Not long after the NBN announcement Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, used his keynote speech at the 2009 AusCert conference to explain that the implementation planning for the NBN would consider national security and identification security implications. “The security of the network is a top priority," he said at the time.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has also opened a tender to find a “consultant to develop an appropriate methodology and repeatable survey instruments for data collection over time, on the issues, solutions and priorities for action in regards to cyber-safety and e-security, as perceived by parents/guardians and teachers”. Conroy also kicked off National E-security Awareness Week on Friday.
More notably, in the defence whitepaper, which came out just after KRudd’s decision, we found out that the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) will be getting better networked systems. According to a written response from the ADF, the networks that will “support the development of a networked ADF will be a combination of national, Defence and Allied ICT infrastructure (inclusive of military and commercial satellite communications)”. In other words the NBN will be used by our armed forces.
The whitepaper also included significant focus on and funding towards combating cyber crime and outlined an initiative to establish a Cyber Security Operations Centre within the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) staffed by Defence Force and Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) personnel.
And we’ve also had the Australian Federal Police High Tech Crime Operations unit commence its search for a new chief cyber cop. It’s not directly related, but points to the level of seriousness the authorities are treating cyber crime.
So did the government decide to go it alone based on the threat posed by cyber criminals or terrorists?
My gut feeling is it did play a significant role in convincing the government to go it alone. It may have even been the deciding factor.
During the NBN tender process the Attorney’s General Department coordinated a national security assessment, including input from DSD.
The assessment was done according to Clause 10.5.4 of the tender process documents. The report and its findings are, however, classified and not likely to be released any time soon.
But it is worth noting that one of the objectives (number 16) of the tender process was to establish an NBN that is “consistent with national security, e-security and e-safety policy objectives including compliance with laws relating to law enforcement assistance and emergency call services”.
So is having a government controlled entity – NBNco – in control of one of the biggest national infrastructure spends in our history a better national security prospect than giving one company the rights to build and operate the network?
While the contents of the security assessment could provide some indication of how the government answered this question and the weight it gave to it during the final decision making process, my theory is they came in with a resounding "Yes, it is better".