Ex US secretary of homeland security to help develop Australia’s new cyber security strategy

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday June 24, 2020

Malcolm Turnbull walks with then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at CSIS, in Washington D.C, United States, 2018. (AAP Image/Yuri Gripas)

The federal government has appointed Kirstjen Nielsen to provide advice on Australia’s cyber security strategy, set to be released this year.

In November, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton appointed an industry advisory panel to help develop the 2020 cyber security strategy, with Telstra boss Andrew Penn named chair.

On Wednesday it was reported that Nielsen, a former US secretary of homeland security, would be working with Penn to develop the strategy.

A spokesperson for Dutton told The Australian Nielsen would “provide valuable insights on how Australia can work with its international partners to address global cyber security threats from nation states and criminal groups”.

Last week Scott Morrison said the new strategy would be released soon, during an announcement that a sophisticated state-based actor has been targeting Australia’s public and private sectors for several months. Morrison did not name the culprit, but it has been widely assumed to be China.

Dutton launched the consultation paper for the strategy in September 2019.

Read more: Australia under attack from state-based cyber actor with ‘significant capabilities’

US President Donald Trump named Nielsen head of homeland security in late 2017. She had defended a number of Trump’s most controversial policies, but resigned less than two years into the role.

In February 2018, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull joined Nielsen and the former national security agency director admiral Mike Rogers at a roundtable discussion on cyber security in Washington.

The group talked about the countries’ partnership in regards to cybersecurity issues, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Secretary Nielsen discussed DHS’s ongoing work to mitigate risks to our supply chain, which is being targeted by sophisticated adversaries with increasing regularity. Finally, the participants recommitted to their joint efforts to deter malicious cyber activity and strengthen the global cyber landscape,” it said.

Nielsen was key to the US’ campaign against Huawei. Turnbull was also a critic of the company and barred it from supplying any equipment for Australia’s 5G network in August 2018.

In light of the ongoing cyber attacks on Australia, this week the former PM justified the move in an interview with the Australian Financial Review.

“In the not quite two years since my government made the decision to keep high-risk vendors out of 5G in Australia, [that] has been proved to be the right call,” he said.

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