Cyber Security: Protecting Civil Society

Cyber Security: Protecting Civil Society

Cyber Security is often linked to state threat actors or criminal cyber gangs trying to harm systems or trying to make financial gains from unsuspecting organisations. But the positive aspects of IT technology are often overlooked, IT technology has the ability to transform individuals life’s, organisations and societies.

In terms of developing countries IT technologies has the opportunities to positively transform entire societies especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

In April 2021 the Australian Government launched the Australia's International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy, setting out a goal for a safe, secure and prosperous Australia, Indo-Pacific and world, enabled by cyberspace and critical technology. The Australian Government has defined critical technologies as those technologies with the capacity to significantly enhance, or pose risks to, Australia’s national interests, including our prosperity, social cohesion and national security. This includes, but is not limited to, technologies (or applications of technologies) such as cyberspace, Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, Internet of Things (IOT), quantum computing and synthetic biology.

The Australian government Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy is based upon the following important criteria, that of:

  • Values – Australia will always pursue a values-based approach to cyberspace and critical technology, and oppose efforts to use technologies to undermine these values;
  • Security – Australia will always support international peace and stability, and secure, trusted and resilient technology;
  • Prosperity – Australia will always advocate for cyberspace and technology to foster sustainable economic growth and development to enhance prosperity.

A key aspect when looking at the impact of technology is ensuring the protection of civil society. The concept of civil society is often overlooked. But what is the civil society? According to the World Bank “civil society refers to a wide array of organisations: community groups, non-governmental organisations, labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations.” In a western context an extension of civil society is political civil society where political parties also form part of civil society and are part of the democratic process.

A key aim of Australia’s strategy is to ensure that critical technologies are used to uphold and protect liberal and democratic values. In order to ensure that will happen, Australia is taking following key steps in terms of critical technologies:

  • Advocate for cyberspace and critical technologies to uphold and protect democratic principles and processes;
  • Promote and protect human rights online and in the design, development and use of critical technologies;
  • Support the ethical design, development and use of critical technologies consistent with international law, including human rights;
  • Advocate for diversity, gender equality and women’s empowerment in the design, development and use of cyberspace and critical technology Australia’s international engage.

The problem is that some critical technologies can be used to manipulate political civil society. What we have seen with the development of fake news is the ability to share false information at limited costs to a global audience in real time. There is no clear definition of what fake news is, but a 2018 UK Parliamentary report on fake news defined some of the key criteria as being:

  • Fabricated content: completely false content;
  • Manipulated content: distortion of genuine information or imagery, for example a headline that is made more sensationalist, often popularised by ‘clickbait’;
  • Imposter content: impersonation of genuine sources, for example by using the branding of an established news agency;
  • Misleading content: misleading use of information, for example by presenting comment as fact;
  • False context of connection: factually accurate content that is shared with false contextual information, for example when a headline of an article does not reflect the content;
  • Satire and parody: presenting humorous but false stores as if they are true.

"The problem is that some critical technologies can be used to manipulate political civil society."

We are also seeing the extension of fake news develop in terms of deep fakes, that is using a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make video of fake events and allowing the manipulation of individuals. An example of deep fakes and former president US President Barack Obama can be found here.

A key challenge facing political civil society is the challenges that they face from applications of critical technologies such as fake news and deep fakes. This will be a major challenge for the Australian government as they promote the positive use of cyberspace and critical technology within the Indo-Pacific region and also ensuring the protection of civil society and political civil society.


Author: Professor Matt Warren

Director of the RMIT University Centre for Cyber Security Research & Innovation.

Background Information

Link to Professor Warren research into Fake news and Australian 2019 Election.




28 June 2021


28 June 2021


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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 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.