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Burden falls on Archives boss to make case for cybersecurity boost

The head of the National Archives says it falls to him now to make a compelling case to the federal government to secure nearly $170 million to boost the institution’s cybersecurity and digital capability.

The government’s long-awaited response to the Tune review of the Archives, revealed in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday, agrees with the need to invest more in cybersecurity and examine the case for a high-tech 5th Generation Digital Archive.

National Archives director-general David Fricker says it’s up to him now to make the case to government for the money needed to strengthen cybersecurity.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

However, it didn’t come with any more funding than the $67.7 million emergency boost announced last month largely to help save at-risk documents.

It said longer-term investment in cybersecurity would be considered “as part of future budget processes” while there needed to be a final business case put for the $167 million David Tune recommended for the digital archive and secure preservation systems.

Director-General David Fricker said the July funding allowed the Archives to get on with the most pressing issues while Wednesday’s response was how the government would address the other recommendations in the longer term.

But he warned the millions of records in the Archives were a potential treasure trove for “hostile foreign actors who would wish to do Australia harm” who could launch a cyberattack.

“We will never sugarcoat … the scale of the threat or the need for us to continue every day to face new emerging vulnerabilities,” he told a parliamentary committee hearing on Thursday.

“The responsibility’s on me and on our institution to develop those business cases … working across government to make sure that the investment proposals … reflect the threat and our capacity to address those vulnerabilities.”

Assistant minister to the Attorney-General Amanda Stoker said there was an opportunity now for the Archives to look at how it could “connect the dots” between its work and that being done elsewhere in government. She anticipated it could take five years to implement key elements of the review.

Mr Fricker acknowledged that, saying the Archives was working closely with the Australian Cyber Security Centre and intelligence agencies to boost its technology and strengthen the security level of its systems.

“The challenge is now on us and on our institution, to make sure that we invest every dollar we have as wisely as possible, that we don’t duplicate effort where we can plug into whole of government initiatives,” he said.

The Archives’ head of information and technology, Yaso Arumugam, told the committee the institution wasn’t yet at the compliance level it wanted on the government’s cybersecurity mitigation strategies but that could only be achieved “within the affordability of our budget”.

Labor cybersecurity spokesman Tim Watts said the Tune review response fell well short of what was needed.

“The Morrison government has today agreed with Tune’s recommendation and acknowledged the urgency of addressing this serious national security threat, it now needs to deliver the long-overdue funding investment as a matter of priority,” he said.

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