Published by Caroline Faulder on
Our increasingly digital world
Digital technologies and services are being adopted rapidly and transforming modern societies in their wake. This has been especially rapid in the Pacific, fuelled by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The recent Australian Information Industry Association’s Digital Capability Uplift Program conference proved an exceptional opportunity to share cyber security fundamentals with a wide range of partners and participate in broader conversations about how digital technologies can support governments and businesses to achieve their objectives.
The benefits of increased digital adoption are significant; enhancing connectivity, supporting financial inclusion and access to public services, revolutionising healthcare and recognising efficiencies at a massive scale.
However, digital adoption in the Pacific also come with associated risks, which are often not well understood or managed. Challenges with system availability and accessibility, maintenance costs and omnipresent cyber security risks can have far-reaching consequences for Pacific citizens and businesses.
The conference highlighted regional concerns about the digital divide, and how digitisation can leave socially, economically and geographically marginalised citizens behind. As more of the everyday world is transitioned online, people without internet connections and basic digital skills can be denied access to the benefits and opportunities that increased digitisation offers.
The conference also highlighted concerns about the lack of cyber security awareness across the Pacific. Without education and awareness, newly connected citizens cannot learn about online risks and basic mitigations (such as not sharing passwords online and having different passwords for different accounts) Citizens in Pacific countries may not have the benefit of the years of cyber security education and awareness we have had in Australia.
The availability and resilience of supporting infrastructure
The conference emphasised the importance of supporting infrastructure in facilitating access to and adoption of digital technologies. Cloud services have revolutionised businesses in Australia but are infeasible for Pacific communities without a robust and resilient internet connection.
The Fijian submarine cable landing station was discussed in depth at multiple points across the conference. The Deputy Prime Minister (Hon. Manoa Kamikamica) has announced the Government’s intention to undertake a feasibility study on building a second submarine cable landing station to provide redundancy for Fiji’s internet connection.
This initiative is contextualised by a January 2022 volcanic eruption and tsunami which severed Tonga’s submarine cable, cutting off access to the global internet. It took five weeks for the cable to be repaired and internet connectivity to be restored to Tongans.
The conference highlighted that the availability and resiliency of supporting infrastructure (like internet connections) is one of the biggest blockers to digital adoption in Fiji and the broader region. Good quality internet connections are critical to enable Pacific communities to realise the economic and social benefits of digital technologies.
What is the path forward?
The Deputy Prime Minister (Hon. Manoa Kamikamica) noted that the Fijian Government is in the process of developing a National Cyber Security Strategy. This is an important step in setting the direction for cyber security investment and priorities in Fiji, which will flow into a variety of initiatives touching both the public and private sectors. However, there is a lot to be done.
One conference delegate noted that “cyber security is like an ocean; the more you learn about it, the deeper it goes.” Too many parts of the Pacific are paddling in the shallows, with only a basic understanding of the cyber threat landscape and how to protect themselves.
It is vital that Australia continues to play our part in sharing lessons from our own cyber security journey to support our regional community in protecting themselves from cyber threats.
Caroline Faulder represented CyberCX during the Australian Information Industry Association’s Digital Capability Uplift Program, culminating in a 1.5 day conference for local government and business representatives in Suva, Fiji.