A New Era of Cyber Readiness for Australian Organisations

Photo of outside Australian Parliament House.

Overview

RMIT’s Cyber Ready Cloud Innovation Centre (CIC) enables students to collaborate with the public sector to tackle cyber issues in the real world. 

In March 2021, RMIT’s CIC partnered with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), an independent, non-partisan think tank, to address the lack of cyber resilience in Australia’s democratic institutions. Non-governmental democratic institutions – such as political parties, think tanks, diaspora groups and media outlets – are increasingly at threat of cyber-enabled foreign interference. This trend not only puts these institutions at risk, but also puts at risk our national sovereignty. 

Two multidisciplinary student teams worked with Amazon Web Services' (AWS) Digital Innovation and Solutions Architect in a fast-paced innovation challenge over 12 weeks to come up with ideas to help increase the resilience of democratic institutions across Australia.

Problem

Australia’s democratic institutions are the foundation of our national sovereignty and the ability to make decisions for ourselves as a nation. In recent years, Australia has seen institutions increasingly targeted by cyber-enabled foreign interference (e.g. ‘hack and leak’ campaigns, digital surveillance and coercion) intended to subvert our sovereignty. The targets of these attacks are frequently democratic institutions that sit outside government networks - political parties, think tanks, diaspora groups, and media organizations.  

While these non-governmental democratic organizations have a significant influence in the democratic process, unlike governmental organizations, they are highly resource constrained and lack the technical capability to defend themselves from cyber attacks. With the attacks being launched by highly sophisticated and well resourced, state-backed actors, this exposes the significant cyber vulnerabilities of their targets. 

Challenge statement identified

How can we increase the resilience of Australia’s democratic institutions in the face of cyber-enabled threats to our sovereignty?

Approach

The CIC team led students through AWS’s “Working Backwards” innovation methodology to clearly identify the people and organisations that are experiencing this cyber-resilience problem and gain a deeper understanding into the context surrounding this problem space. By immersing themselves in the world of staff members at non-governmental democratic organisations, students were able to understand the common trends and situations occurring in the workplace and generate solutions that are relevant and useful to their users.

Each of the two student teams created a mock Press Release and Frequently Askes Questions (PRFAQs)s document for their future solution, an exercise allowing them to clearly articulate their solution, its intended audience, and the problem it will solve. Having a short, clear, and compelling case for the solution right from the beginning means teams can gut-check whether it is viable to pursue before they explore the idea further.

Once the PRFAQs document was finalised, teams were able to launch into development mode, detailing their ideas. , This included storyboard visuals of the solution in use, technical architecture and demonstrations of the products.

Outcomes

Both student teams developed solution ideas that focussed strongly on the behavioural changes of individual staff members needed in order to build cyber resilience within Australia’s non-governmental democratic organisations.

Team 1: Caar-On-Cloud

The Caar-on-Cloud team developed ‘CyberBuddy’ – a new digital mate that provides education and support to staff facing cyber threats within their organisations. This autonomous, user-friendly bot uses both text and voice recognition to deliver targeted and effective support to protect users from placing systems at risk of cyber-attacks.

Team 2: The Leaders

The Leaders developed the ‘Cyber-Safe Test’ (CST) – a solution which combats the challenge of increasing foreign cyber-attacks by raising cyber security awareness through the deployment of education phishing email tests.

Supporting artifacts created by the students

Press releases and FAQs

Visuals

Architecture

Prototype demonstrations (hosted on YouTube)

Code (hosted on GitHub)

Team final presentations

About the RMIT Cyber Ready CIC

The RMIT Cyber Ready CIC is a collaboration between RMIT and Amazon Web Services (AWS) and forms part of a growing global network of Cloud Innovation Centres (CICs), designed to address public sector challenges through digital innovation.

The CIC is based at RMIT’s home of innovation and entrepreneurship, Activator, and draws from experts across various fields, including RMIT’s Blockchain Innovation Hub, Health Transformation Lab and RMIT Online – giving partners access to the best innovative thinkers and brightest young minds from across the University.

The CIC is backed by AWS’ cloud technology and expertise in machine learning, high-performance computing and data analytics, ensuring prototypes are equipped to deliver practical solutions using cutting edge tools and technology.

About the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)

Established by the Australian Government in 2001, ASPI is an independent, non-partisan think tank that produces expert and timely advice for Australia’s strategic and defence leaders. ASPI generates new ideas for policy makers, allowing them to make better-informed decisions. ASPI is one of the most authoritative and widely quoted contributors to public discussion of strategic policy issues in the Indo-Pacific region and a recognised and authoritative Australian voice in international discussion on strategic, national security, cyber, technology and foreign interference issues.

Thank you to:

Our challenge sponsors

  • Tom Uren, Senior Analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute
  • Lachlan McGrath, Policy Advisor
  • Tim Watts MP, Federal Member for Gellibrand

The Cyber Ready CIC team

  • Matt Salier, Director, RMIT Cyber Ready CIC
  • Meg San Miguel, Program Delivery Lead, RMIT Activator
  • Bobbie Couhbor, Senior Solutions Architect, AWS
  • Catherine Eibner, Digital Innovation Lead, AWS
  • Helen Rogers, Program Manager, AWS
  • Daamini Krishnaswamy, Business Innovation Support Intern, RMIT Activator
  • Zian Fernandes, Technical Innovation Support Intern, RMIT Activator

Our student teams

Caar-On-Cloud

  • Akshay Sharma
  • Rashmi Walavalkar
  • Ashwin Ramesh
  • Chetan Kataria

The Leaders

  • Nikhil Sharma
  • Drashti Khakhi
  • Armaan Singh Chawla
  • Han Li
  • Lucas Graf

Want to learn more about this space?

Hear from our very own challenge sponsor Lachlan McGrath on the importance of supporting the resilience of Australian non-government democratic institutions.

Read the article on LinkedIn

Become an industry sponsor

Engage in a fast-paced innovation sprint that sees multidiscplinary teams of students working on a real-life cyber security challenge faced by your organisation.

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.