Taking on the cyber threat

Published on CPL Mark Doran (author), CPL Nunu Campos (photographer)

Location(s): Canberra, ACT

Topic(s): Training, Australian Defence Force Academy, Cyber

Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Morgan Fitzpatrick, from Defence Strategic Communication, participates in Cyberspace Operations Training at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. (photo: CPL Nunu Campos)
Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Morgan Fitzpatrick, from Defence Strategic Communication, participates in Cyberspace Operations Training at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

In today’s world, where almost everything is connected to a computer network, the opportunity for crime and espionage to flourish is more prevalent than ever. 

To help meet this threat, Army ran a 50-day Cyberspace Operations Course at the Australian Defence Force Academy from September to November in partnership with the University of New South Wales Australian Centre for Cyber Security.

Open to all services and ranks, the course assisted participants to incorporate cyberspace considerations into planning and operations while reinforcing the importance of security and defensive measures.

Intensive training included cyberspace security and defence, comprising computer forensics, intrusion analysis and response actions, with penetration testing and tactical cyber techniques.

The challenging course culminated in a simulated cyberspace combat operation designed to expose the complexity and friction of combat in cyberspace, and test their command, control and communication.

Leading Seaman Communication and Information Systems Morgan Fitzpatrick, from the Navy Communication and Information Warfare branch, was the only Navy student on the course.

Despite a solid background in information technology, with more than 10 years of experience, he still found the training challenging.

“There is a lot of information to be learnt on the course and students need the desire to learn,” Leading Seaman Fitzpatrick said.

“I found the instructors had a wealth of knowledge and they were more than happy to share it."

Leading Seaman Fitzpatrick recommended prospective students study the programming language Python and learn to use Kali Linux, which is a free program designed for digital forensics and penetration testing.

“It would also be a good idea to look into virtual software in order to create virtual management systems, which will allow students to practise and get their heads around binary coding,” he said.

“I built virtual management systems at home with a couple of cheap computers I bought online to help me get my head around what we learnt in class.

“One is an attack platform, and the other is for defence.

“It is a lot of work and a lot of effort, but continuous practice will help build upon the new skills we learnt.”

Head of Modernisation and Strategic Planning, Major General Gus McLachlan visited students at the Academy training facilities.

Major General McLachlan said cyberspace was the fifth warfighting domain.

“After air, land, sea and space, it’s the most active as there are already people looking to steal intellectual property,” Major General McLachlan said.

“Defence is investing billions of dollars in a digital command and control network, that will give us a significant advantage, but there is no point spending all that money if we can’t

defend it and ensure it operates.

“We have to accelerate our investment in cyber defensive capabilities.

“We have a lot to do in a relatively short time, which is why our three-year partnership is so important,” Major General McLachlan said.

It’s not a simple task to defend a computer network against known or emerging threats. The Cyberspace Operations Course provides an in-depth understanding of the technical issues and the policy used in computer and network defence.

Staff Officer Grade 2 Cyberspace Operations, Major Glenn Bellingham, of Army Headquarters, said the Australian Defence Force had the challenge to secure and defend its mission systems.

“This is regardless of whether the mission system exists as a networked computer sitting on a desk in a deployed headquarters, a fire control system linking the gun-line to its forward observer, or the vehicle management system on the future Land 400 armoured vehicles,” Major Bellinghman said.

He said the Australian Defence Force’s relationship with the Centre at the University of New South Wales was key in educating and up-skilling personnel.

“The high-quality lecturers have been responsive to our needs and allow flexibility in the modules taught to our personnel,” Major Bellingham said.

Major Bellingham said it would be good to see a broad spectrum of personnel from different backgrounds challenging themselves in the next round of Cyberspace Operations Training in 2017.