Tag Archives: security

Delivering expertise for Australia’s critical infrastructure

Pipelines are not something at the front of everybody’s mind, but the crucial piping infrastructure that invisibly links our national, regional and city areas is an integral part of the energy industry and a key focus of the Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre (EPCRC).

A return in excess of $4.50 for every dollar the EPCRC spends is a tangible measure of the success of this well-established CRC.

Now in its seventh year, the EPCRC is currently working on four key program areas: more efficient use of materials; life extension of new and existing pipelines; advanced design and construction; and public safety and security of supply.

“The suite of topics is quite broad. We cover projects from basic materials research, and welding, corrosion and crack management, through to age maintenance, quality of coatings of pipelines, and cathodic protection [a mechanism used to reduce and prevent corrosion]. And how you do that is a mixture of both science and real-world experience,” says EPCRC CEO David Norman.

“What we have set up to deliver is an agenda of applied research driven by industry needs.”

The National Facility for Pipeline Coating Assessment (NFPCA) is a perfect example of how the EPCRC works via research to assist industry. An initiative of the CRC, the NFPCA is an independent facility established to perform oil and gas pipeline coating testing services.

“One of the things that industry needed was an ability to test coatings and one of the things we’ve been able to do is to satisfy that local need,” Norman says.

Prior to the establishment of the NFPCA, companies had to send coatings overseas to have them assessed. Now samples can be sent to Victoria to be tested, saving shipping costs and wait times, as well as growing local industry.

The EPCRC is now planning its next 10 years and is looking at how it can continue to add value to industry and the nation through its research projects. The organisation is also reaching out to the broader industry to identify the new challenges for which targeted research can assist with solutions through to 2030.

“By pooling our resources more widely across a whole industry, we have achieved things that never would have occurred if left to just one or two companies,” Norman explains.

“The CRC Programme is an excellent mechanism to bring together groups to tackle challenges and deliver solutions,” he adds.

The three key themes developing for the future are: life cycle management of pipelines, including research to better optimise how pipelines are designed and built, operated and decommissioned; security of supply with regards to urbanisation, public safety, and management by planning authorities; and future fluids and pipeline opportunities in the future energy transition.

As the world moves to lower carbon and potentially zero emissions, pipelines will have a critical role through their use for services other than for what they were originally designed – such as the role of storing gas in pipes rather than just transportation.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that we provide in dollar terms in excess of what the average CRC provides for every dollar invested,” Norman says.

“We are excited for what the future holds as we continue to work closely with industry.”

– Penny Pryor

HoloLens to revolutionise training

The Australian arm of global company Saab has partnered with Microsoft to build a range of ground-breaking training, education and other complex 3D Holographic applications for HoloLens.

Worn as goggles by users, Microsoft HoloLens is the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling interaction with high‑definition holograms.

Saab Australia, based in the South Australian capital Adelaide, is a defence, security and traffic management solutions provider specialising in computer based command and control systems.

Head of Training and Simulation Inger Lawes said the company had identified three initial markets: its traditional defence and security market, the enterprise market – primarily large corporations wanting bespoke applications to address a specific need – and internal applications for the company’s own development.

“A year or so ago we came across Microsoft’s work with holograms and specifically HoloLens and pretty quickly saw that this was a piece of technology that had the potential to revolutionise the way that training can be delivered but also a whole range of other things we are broadly involved in,” Lawes said.

“We want to produce applications that are at the sophisticated end of what HoloLens can do. For example there are a lot of games on this thing that are a lot of fun but that’s not where we want to be, we want to be at the upper end of what’s possible.”

Lawes said applications could range from training programs for school students and defence company employees to advanced assembly software for high-value manufacturers.

He said the company was initially focusing on internal training applications for HoloLens but would deliver an application for its first external customer in September.

“It’s pretty exciting because there’s nothing better than going from good ideas to actually fielding something in a relatively short time,” he said.

“We want to stay within our business of defence and security but we also want to explore applied markets such as using HoloLens to support sophisticated manufacturing.”

“We’re in such a great position with this technology because we really are in uncharted waters. We really don’t know what’s going to happen – we know it’s going to be fantastic but what direction we go we’ll see.”

Lawes said Microsoft had “gone out of its way” to help Saab establish a HoloLens studio in Adelaide and would provide the necessary hardware.

He said English language skills and an existing relationship with Microsoft made Saab Australia a logical choice.

“Microsoft are interested in helping us because Australia is a close friend of the United States, we speak English – everything that’s deployed on Hololens at the moment is in English – we’re able to work in the defence and security market and have developed a strong working relationship with their opposite numbers at Microsoft,” he said.

“Our plan is to set up globally in Adelaide. Our market then becomes near region but going into Europe on the back of our existing business relationships is also a real possibility.

“So when we are up and running this time next year we’ll be an export business as well as a domestic supplier.

“Every conversation we have with this technology reveals another good idea and for us it’s really exciting to be involved.”

– Andrew Spence

This article was first published by The Lead on 13 April 2016. Read the original article here.

Australia could lead in cybersecurity research

This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the Science and Research Priorities recently announced by the Federal Government. You can read the introduction to the series by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, here.

Alex Zelinsky

Chief Defence Scientist, Defence Science and Technology

The national science and research priorities have been developed with the goal of maximising the national benefit from research expenditure, while strengthening our capacity to excel in science and technology.

Cybersecurity has been identified as a research priority due to Australia’s increasing dependence on cyberspace for national well-being and security. Cyberspace underpins both commercial and government business; it is globally accessible, has no national boundaries and is vulnerable to malicious exploitation by individuals, organised groups and state actors.

Cybersecurity requires application of research to anticipate vulnerabilities, strengthen cyber systems to ward off attacks, and enhance national capability to respond to, recover from, and continue to operate in the face of a cyber-attack.

Cyberspace is a complex, rapidly changing environment that is progressed and shaped by technology and by how the global community adopts, adapts and uses this technology. Success in cyberspace will depend upon our ability to “stay ahead of the curve”.

Research will support the development of new capability to strengthen the information and communications systems in our utilities, business and government agencies against attack or damage. Investment will deliver cybersecurity enhancements, infrastructure for prototype assessment and a technologically skilled workforce.

Accordingly, priority should be given to research that will lead to:

  1. Highly secure and resilient communications and data acquisition, storage, retention and analysis for government, defence, business, transport systems, emergency and health services
  2. Secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies for software applications, mobile devices, cloud computing and critical infrastructure
  3. New technologies for detection and monitoring of vulnerabilities and intrusions in cyber infrastructure, and for managing recovery from failure. Alex Zelinsky is Chief Defence Scientist at Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.

Andrew Goldsmith
Director of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University

Sensible science and research on cybersecurity must be premised upon informed, rather than speculative, “what if”, analysis. Researchers should not be beholden to institutional self-interest from whichever sector: government; business; universities; or security/defence agencies.

We need to be clear about what the cybersecurity threat landscape looks like. It is a variable terrain. Terms such as “cyber-terrorism” tend to get used loosely and given meanings as diverse as the Stuxnet attack and the use of the internet by disenchanted converts to learn how to build a pipe bomb.

We need to ask and answer the question: who has the interest and the capability to attack us and why?

References to “warfare” can be misleading. A lot of what we face is not “war” but espionage, crime and political protest. More than two decades into the lifecycle of the internet, we have not yet had an electronic Pearl Harbour event.

Cybersecurity depends upon human and social factors, not just technical defences. We need to know our “enemies” as well as ourselves better, in addition to addressing technical vulnerabilities.

We should be sceptical about magic bullet solutions of any kind. Good defences and secure environments depend upon cooperation across units, a degree of decentralisation, and built-in redundancy.

Andrew Goldsmith is Strategic Professor of Criminology at Flinders University.

Jodi Steel
Director, Security Business Team at NICTA

Cybersecurity is an essential underpinning to success in our modern economies.

It’s a complex area and there are no magic bullet solutions: success requires a range of approaches. The national research priorities for cybersecurity highlight key areas of need and opportunity.

The technologies we depend on in cyberspace are often not worthy of our trust. Securing them appropriately is complex and often creates friction for users and processes. Creation of secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies – security by design – can remove or reduce security friction, improving overall security posture.

Australia has some key capabilities in this area, including cross-disciplinary efforts.

The ability to detect and monitor vulnerabilities and intrusions and to recover from failure is critical, yet industry reports indicate that the average time to detect malicious or criminal attack is around six months. New approaches are needed, including improved technological approaches as well as collaboration and information sharing.

Success in translating research outcomes to application – for local needs and for export – will be greater if we are also able to create an ecosystem of collaboration and information sharing, especially in the fast-moving cybersecurity landscape.

Jodi Steel is Director, Security Business Team at NICTA.

Vijay Varadharajan
Director, Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University

Cyberspace is transforming the way we live and do business. Securing cyberspace from attacks has become a critical need in the 21st century to enable people, enterprises and governments to interact and conduct their business. Cybersecurity is a key enabling technology affecting every part of the information-based society and economy.

The key technological challenges in cybersecurity arise from increased security attacks and threat velocity, securing large scale distributed systems, especially “systems of systems”, large scale secure and trusted data driven decision making, secure ubiquitous computing and pervasive networking and global participation.

In particular, numerous challenges and opportunities exist in the emerging areas of cloud computing, Internet of Things and Big Data. New services and technologies of the future are emerging and likely to emerge in the future in the intersection of these areas. Security, privacy and trust are critical for these new technologies and services.

For Australia to be a leader, it is in these strategic areas of cybersecurity that it needs to invest in research and development leading to new secure, trusted and dependable technologies and services as well as building capacity and skills and thought leadership in cybersecurity of the future.

Vijay Varadharajan is Director: Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University.

Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it'll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC
Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it’ll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC

Craig Valli
Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University

ICT is in every supply chain or critical infrastructure we now run for our existence on the planet. The removal or sustained disruption of ICT as a result of lax cybersecurity is something we can no longer overlook or ignore.

The edge between cyberspace and our physical world is blurring with destructive attacks on physical infrastructure already occurring. The notion of the nation state, and its powers and its abilities to cope with these disruptions, are also significantly being challenged.

The ransacking of countries’ intellectual property by cyber-enabled actors is continuing unabated, robbing us of our collective futures. These are some of the strong indicators that currently we are getting it largely wrong in addressing cybersecurity issues. We cannot persist in developing linear solutions to network/neural security issues presented to us by cyberspace. We need change.

The asymmetry of cyberspace allows a relatively small nation state to have significant advantage in cybersecurity, Israel being one strong example. Australia could be the next nation, but not without significant, serious, long-term, collaborative investments by government, industry, academy and community in growing the necessary human capital. This initiative is hopefully the epoch of that journey.

Craig Valli is Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University.

Liz Sonenberg
Professor of Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne

There are more than two million actively trading businesses in Australia and more than 95% have fewer than 20 employees. Such businesses surely have no need for full-time cybersecurity workers, but all must have someone responsible to make decisions about which IT and security products and services to acquire.

At least historically, new technologies have been developed and deployed without sufficient attention to the security implications. So bad actors have found ways to exploit the resulting vulnerabilities.

More research into software design and development from a security perspective, and research into better tools for security alerts and detection is essential. But such techniques will never be perfect. Research is also needed into ways of better supporting human cyberanalysts – those who work with massive data flows to identify anomalies and intrusions.

New techniques are needed to enable the separation of relevant from irrelevant data about seemingly unconnected events, and to integrate perspectives from multiple experts. Improving technological assistance for humans requires a deep understanding of human cognition in the complex, mutable and ephemeral environment of cyberspace.

The cybersecurity research agenda is thus only partly a technical matter: disciplines such as decision sciences, organisational behaviour and international law all must play a part.

Liz Sonenberg is Professor, Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne.

Sven Rogge
Professor of Physics and Program Manager at the Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology at UNSW

Cybersecurity is essential for our future in a society that needs to safeguard information as much as possible for secure banking, safe transportation, and protected power grids.

Quantum information technology will transform data communication and processing. Here, quantum physics is exploited for new technologies to protect, transmit and process information. Classical cryptography relies on mathematically hard problems such as factoring which are so difficult to solve that classical computers can take decades. Quantum information technology allows for an alternative approach to this problem that will lead to a solution on a meaningful timescale, such as minutes in contrast to years. Quantum information technology allows for secure encoding and decoding governed by fundamental physics which is inherently unbreakable, not just hard to break.

Internationally, quantum information is taking off rapidly underlined by large government initiatives. At the same time there are commercial investments from companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin.

Due to long term strategic investments in leading academic groups Australia remains at the forefront globally and enjoys a national competitive advantage in quantum computing and cybersecurity. We should utilise the fact that Australia is a world leader and global player in quantum information science to provide many new high technology industries for its future.

Sven Rogge is Professor of Physics at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation and shared by Edith Cowan University on 10 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Read more in The Conversation Science and Research Priorities series.

The future of manufacturing in Australia is smart, agile and green

On the road: research can improve transport across Australia

Research priority: make Australia’s health system efficient, equitable and integratedThe Conversation

Armour forged through collaboration

Forged from plough parts, heated in a makeshift iron forge and moulded into shape over a Stringybark log, the homemade armour worn by Ned Kelly and his gang is almost as famous as the man himself. Although the suit of armour deflected many bullets, it weighed in at just over 44kg, and left his hands and legs unprotected.

Now, the winner of the Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRC) Award for Excellence in Innovation 2015, the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), have developed a unique manufacturing process that produces armour with the same level of protection as traditional combat body armour, but is far lighter.

The DMTC developed a cutting edge manufacturing process for shaping ceramic boron carbide armour. Very difficult to manufacture, one of the key issues for the team was maintaining quality control as the material expanded and compressed in response to the heat of the production process.

“Up until recently, body armour design has been relatively simple, durable but so heavy you can’t move quickly…Think: the Ned Kelly suit,” says DMTC CEO Dr Mark Hodge. “Having optimal equipment enhances survivability. Mobility is a significant contributor to personnel protection and with less weight and more mobility, soldiers are able to get out of trouble more quickly,” he says.

Body armour designs trade off protection against weight and bulk reduction with highly protective systems often proving heavy and restrictive. Successive models have been designed to offer more comprehensive levels of protection, with vests made from industrial strength fibres to deform bullets upon impact, and plated metal inserts to provide extra protection to vital areas. Although significantly lighter than Kelly’s original armour, today’s combat body armour remains heavy and unwieldy, a troubling fact as soldiers carry up to 58kg of gear in certain situations.


As one of the hardest substances known to man, boron carbide is frequently used in the manufacturing of body armour. However up until now it was very difficult to bend boron carbide into a variety of different forms to be used for specific body shapes. As a result, heavier materials had to be used.

With this new near-net shaping technology developed by the DMTC, body armour made purely from boron carbide will allow for manufacturing of lighter armour panels such as helmet inserts and customised ballistic panels for combat vehicles.

The development of the specialised process will yield many benefits for the Australian defence industry, says Hodge. Rather than having to outsource research and development from another country, it is being done right at home. Allowing the defence industry to make adjustments and improvements at any time to accommodate the needs of defence personnel.

Contributions included academic support from The University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology, advice from the DSTO, the Army’s Diggerworks Program, Australian Defence Apparel, and research and manufacturing expertise from BMT, CSIRO, and VCAMM. The collaboration allowed for strides in industrial design capability as well as guidance from the defence department as to what threats the armour should be designed to withstand.

“It would have been impossible to find all the expertise needed for the project under one roof,” Hodge says. “In order to source the appropriate equipment and variety of expertise, we needed a collaborative team that shared a common sense of purpose,” he says.

In the next 25 years Hodge says the integration of the unique net shaping process will be applied broadly to the defence industry due to the extensive use of boron carbide in combat body armour. However, this does not mean that work stops for Hodge.

“Bullets are made to defeat body armour, so we must learn the limits of the material so that we can continue to improve and offer the next level of protection.”

Kara Norton

Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC)

Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRC)

The data deluge

WHEN A POWERFUL magnitude 7 earthquake devastated the Republic of Haiti on 12 January 2010, more than 200,000 people were killed. Around 3 million people were affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks, which destroyed 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings.

Around 630,000 people left the chaos of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in search of shelter, water and sanitation. Many of these people used Haiti’s four main mobile phone providers, via its 6 million mobile phone lines, to call friends or relatives in rural areas. Those calls enabled Swedish medical researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm to track their movements and to identify areas at risk of potential cholera outbreaks.

The researchers worked with Haiti’s largest mobile phone operator, Digicel, to analyse the call history of 2 million mobile phone users, before and after the earthquake. The results, published in PLoS Medicine and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and 2012 respectively, found that “people seemed to have travelled to where they had significant social bonds and support”. More specifically, most Haitians fleeing Port-au-Prince went to the same locations where they had spent Christmas and New Year. The study showed that large-scale movements after earthquakes and other disasters are not chaotic, but often highly predictable, and could be used to improve the efficiency of aid distribution.

The Haiti research is an example of how big data analysis can be used for humanitarian purposes or ‘data philanthropy’ in developing countries. A May 2014 report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation suggests that mobile phone data is “one of the only large-scale, digital data sources that touch large portions of low-income populations,” and if analysed “under proper protections and anonymisation protocols, it can be used to enhance the lives of poor people around the world”.

Victims survive in the aftermath of historic earthquake in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti January, 2010
A study of Haitian phone records showed that people’s movements after a disaster are often highly predictable.

MOBILE PHONES ARE just one source of big data in a world where global satellite navigation, online transactions, sensors, digital closed-circuit cameras, radar monitoring and aerial surveys using pre-programmed drones generate hundreds of exabytes (billions of gigabytes) of data a year. In 2010, The Economist published a series of features on ‘the data deluge’, warning that keeping up with this flood was difficult enough, but “analysing it, to spot patterns and extract useful information, is harder still”. A 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that the volume of global data was predicted to grow by 40% a year, but global spending on data information management was growing at just 5% annually. Technology researcher Gartner estimated that big data analytics drove US$28 billion of global IT spending in 2012, and predict expenditure will exceed US$230 billion in 2016.

In Australia, the Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC) has received $25 million from the federal government and $62.5 million from industry and research participants to address big data challenges. It follows a review of the data analytics and management capacity of Australia’s public service, including defence and federal law enforcement agencies.

Based in Adelaide, the D2D CRC will focus on three research areas: data storage and management, analytics and decision support, and law and policy for big data analysis including issues such as privacy. Participants include Deakin University, the Australian Federal Police, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Defence, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide, UNSW Australia, BAE Systems and SAS. The CRC will also develop research links with leading US universities and data analysts.

“We’re dealing with vast volumes of raw, unstructured data. For defence and national security, it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.”

DR SANJAY MAZUMDAR, the CRC’s chief executive, says the bid to establish the $88 million research venture arose from discussions about future challenges to Australia’s national security and a shortage of skills in data intelligence applications and analytics. Australia urgently needs to build a skilled workforce to manage, extract and analyse data. The CRC aims to produce 48 PhD students across areas that include health care, IT, government services, law, manufacturing and defence intelligence systems. It will also train 1000 data scientists through its Education and Training Program, and work with universities to build on existing degrees in business and data analytics.

Australia’s defence and national security sectors face “the most imminent and complex” challenges from the global data deluge, Mazumdar says. British mathematician and global data analytics expert Clive Humby has described data as “the new oil”, but Mazumdar points out that, like oil, data needs to be processed to extract maximum benefit.

“We’re dealing with vast volumes of raw, unstructured data. For defence and national security agencies, it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. In a time-critical situation, you need to be able to extract actionable intelligence from that data, and to do that, you need advanced data analysis programs that can process and filter that data quickly, accurately and efficiently,” he says.

Even when massive datasets have been processed and analysed, there’s still a need to cross-reference and present findings as visualisations – tables, charts, graphs, keywords and heat maps – that condense the data to manageable and easily assimilated information. Otherwise, Mazumdar says, we may be “drowning in data but starved for information”.

He explains that it’s not only defence and national security agencies that will benefit from expanding Australia’s skills in data analytics. “In mining, for example, the biggest costs are around exploratory drilling to obtain samples for analysis. There’s a possibility that geophysical data from satellite images could be used to pinpoint where deposits are likely to occur, and that could be immensely cost-saving.”

Mazumdar says the CRC will provide a variety of big data users – from government departments and utilities to universities and private industry – with the “tools, techniques and workforce to unlock the value of their data to make more informed and efficient decisions”.

Advanced machine learning and data retrieval systems are critical research areas for big data management. Mazumdar uses the example of image extraction during an attempted terrorist attack, when police and defence intelligence may need to analyse hours, days or even weeks of footage from closed-circuit cameras.

“If you can teach a computer to look for certain combinations of things in that high-volume data stream, you will get a faster result that will inform real-time decisions a lot more quickly,” he says.

The CRC will develop next-generation data storage and large-scale processing software from commercial open-source data management systems, such as Hadoop. Mazumdar says new systems of data mining and machine learning could reduce the time required to analyse high-volume data streams, including satellite imagery. It’s not a question of automating decisions via a machine, but of using data analytics to strip out non-essentials and collate relevant material.

“The human eye and brain are very good at processing complex information from images, but they wouldn’t cope with such a high volume of material. If we can teach a computer to look for certain combinations of things, like the shape of an aircraft, for example, the machine can sort the images in the data pipeline into a smaller, more manageable dataset.”


THE RIGHT TO privacy and debate over who owns data generated by social media, mobile phones, ATMs and iPad apps, is a hotly-contested topic.

A data management issues paper was developed by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to identify and discuss privacy and security implications around the use of government agency data. The AGIMO estimates that 90% of data in the world today was generated over the past two years alone, and that this amount of data will be 44 times greater by 2020. But who should have right to use such data and under what circumstances, and what controls are appropriate to place on its use?

The AGIMO argues that private companies such as banks, online retailers, insurance companies and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, harvest huge volumes of customer data, which is analysed and used to create new client services. Government departments and agencies could also use data analytics to improve services, but they’re bound by a range of legislative controls relating to privacy, security and public trust. In Australia, they must obtain and use information according to the Privacy Act, the Telecommunications Act, Freedom of Information laws and others.
The Gates Foundation report gives an example of mobile phone data use that generated controversy. When health researchers at Harvard University obtained Kenyan mobile records to track the spread of malaria in 2012, it provoked a storm of protest from people who had unknowingly contributed to the study. The researchers had obtained anonymised records for every call and text message sent by 15 million Kenyan mobile phone subscribers over a year, and used the data to identify regions where malaria infection had originated to target medical aid more effectively.

Despite the humanitarian nature of the research and reassurances that callers could not be identified from data provided, Kenyan media claimed the study had breached privacy. The Gates Foundation report says the incident shows that “even with the best of intentions and adherence to rules”, researchers need to consider privacy issues when collecting data.

Professor Louis De Koker, of Deakin University’s School of Law, was founding director of the Centre for the Study of Economic Crime at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. He will lead the D2D CRC’s Law and Policy program, which combines senior law and socio-legal researchers from the Deakin School of Law and UNSW Australia Law.

“Big data analysis challenges existing privacy principles because our current framework is built around the notion that you own your data and anyone who wants to use it needs your consent to do so,” he says. “It also assumes that data can be effectively de-identified, whereas data analytics can now enable re-identification.”

Social network and mobile media concept“In many cases, the data you generate from, for example, activity on social media sites or Google searches, may be analysed and produce more data and a deeper understanding about you or about communities of which you are a member. In addition, that data would often be stored in another country. What are the laws that apply to that secondary data, and how do you enforce any breaches of rights that you may have in relation to that data? How do we harness such data to improve national security while protecting Australians from abuse of their data? Those are the kinds of policy questions that need to be looked at.”

He says privacy concerns reflect a substantial increase in the volume of data being collected and social concerns and fears around being spied on.
“Unlike the days when you filled in a form and physically handed it to someone, people often don’t know what kind of data is being collected, how and when it’s being collected, who is using it to draw conclusions about you or which decisions by government or private companies relating to you are affected,” he says.

“These days, we take the presence of surveillance cameras very much for granted because they’re everywhere – they’re in shops, airports and at ATMs. But what are the implications when we combine these data sources with sophisticated data analysis? How can we harness the benefits of such data and protect society against abuse?”

In 2013, Shoalhaven City Council installed CCTV cameras in the NSW South Coast town of Nowra as part of a crime prevention program. The surveillance cameras were installed in public places, including shops, parking lots and parks. But a resident challenged their use and argued before the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that it was not the council’s role to collect evidence for the purpose of prosecuting crime. The tribunal upheld the resident’s complaint, ruling that council signage near the camera did not adequately inform people about privacy implications. It also ruled that the council had not established that filming people was “reasonably necessary” to prevent crime.

De Koker says there’s also debate around the adequacy of the protection afforded by giving people notice and gaining their consent to collect and use data, for example when customers sign online agreements relating to social media, software downloads and apps. A report to President Barack Obama in May 2014 on big data and privacy by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology stated that “each individual app, program or web service” is legally required to ask people to give consent for data collection practices. “Only in some fantasy world do users actually read these notices and understand their implications before clicking to indicate their consent,” the report says.

Mazumdar and De Koker say the D2D CRC will explore opportunities and challenges posed by high-volume data harvesting and analytics in consultation with legal and national security experts.

“All governments are grappling with this issue…There is a lot of good that can come from big data analysis, but we need to balance our expectations and concerns,” De Koker says.

“In the modern world, one of the biggest threats to both national security and personal privacy is a person sitting in a room with a laptop.”

THE ADVISORY COUNCIL’S report to President Obama suggests future generations, who will have grown up with digital technologies, “may see little threat in scenarios that individuals today would find threatening”. It describes a future in which “digital assistants”, in the form of data collection cameras, film a woman packing her suitcase for a business trip. The bag is placed outside for pick-up, with her digital assistants sending the delivery instructions. The suitcase won’t be stolen because a streetlight camera is watching it and every item inside it has a tiny electronic tag that can be tracked and found within minutes.

Her world possibly “seems creepy to us”, but she has “accepted a different balance among the public goods of convenience, privacy and security than most people would today,” the report says.

“In the modern world, one of the biggest threats to both national security and personal privacy is a person sitting in a room with a laptop,” says Mazumdar. “That threat will only grow as the world becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology. We’re already detecting sophisticated ways to hide data and connections online. We need to improve our national capacity to detect and respond to that hidden information, but also to ensure control of that capacity, to respect and protect the rights of users online.”


Fields of glory

With the potential to add $250billion to Australia’s economy over the next two decades, according to a 2014 report by global consultancy Deloitte, agriculture has been deemed one of our five “super growth sectors”.

The Deloitte report, the final in its Building the Lucky Country series on future prosperity, says agriculture could be “as big as mining” for Australia, thanks to a combination of factors that include an increase in global population, rising food demand, food security issues and the changing dietary demands of Asia’s growing middle class in countries like China, India and Indonesia.

“Essentially, we have what the world wants and will increasingly need over the next 20 years,” says Rob McConnel, Deloitte’s Agribusiness National Leader.

“The global opportunity becomes obvious when you see the numbers, and the numbers are compelling. The world’s population is around 7billion and this is forecast to increase to 9billion by 2050, which is a 28% increase.”

The world will need to increase global food production by around 75% and Australian agribusiness “has the goods” to be a major player in meeting this demand, he says. But our challenges include investing more in research and development, improving tertiary education courses to produce more agribusiness and food science graduates, and “having a mature conversation” about foreign investment in agribusiness assets.

Also in 2014, economic consultants McKinsey & Company published a report on actions needed to build Australia’s international competitiveness across all sectors of the economy. The report, Compete to Prosper – Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness, concludes that only one economic sector – agriculture – “stands out as strongly competitive”, but warns that its future contribution to the national economy should not be taken for granted.

While Australia is well-positioned, geographically and economically, to gain access to new markets in Asia, this growth is not assured, the McKinsey report says. Australia faces a “pervasive competitiveness problem” and many sectors of its economy lag behind international benchmarks.

The report argues that disruptive technologies such as robotics and digital communications are redefining economies and global trade, with supply chains fragmenting and becoming more specialised. The report uses Apple’s iPod as an example of a high-demand product that contains 451 distinct components sourced from around the world.

This means the global flows of those components, or “intermediate goods”, are more than three times greater than for the final product, and competition is moving from the level of industry sectors like manufacturing or retail to areas like design and logistics.

“Tools for file sharing and collaboration allow engineering plans to be drafted by teams in multiple countries; more sophisticated logistics allow construction firms to prefabricate everything from bathrooms in multi-storey dwellings to steel structures for liquefied natural gas processing plants,” the McKinsey report points out.

WHAT DOES THIS mean for Australian agriculture? Future farm research teams will include data analysts, software programmers, agronomists, statisticians, engineers, geneticists, cell biologists, hydrologists and atmospheric physicists. Farmers will use geo-location data to analyse climate, water tables and soils, and calculate inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals for weed and disease control. Farm robotics, from drone surveillance of livestock and crops to sophisticated digital systems that track soil moisture and farm water management, will be a major growth area.

The Australian Government has announced $100million in new grants for rural industries research. At the Australasian Research Managers Society conference in Canberra in September 2014,
the Department of Agriculture Senior Executive Richard Webb said “non-traditional areas” such as farm robotics will be funded by grants offered through Australia’s 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations. Australia is already a world leader in this area, Webb emphasised, adding that there was “plenty of scope” to work across industries and to adapt mining and defence robotic systems to farming.

Precision agriculture research, which involves the use of satellite mapping and remote sensors, is another area where Australia can lead. The Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney has developed a world-first robot sensor for vegetable farming – a solar-powered robot called Ladybird that will help farmers collect crop data, detect pests and control weeds.

The Plant Biosecurity CRC is working with researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the use of drones to detect diseases in wheat and other crops, as well as the spread of the myrtle rust fungus in Australia’s national parks.

Sustainable grazing systems also have the potential to improve farm productivity and profitability, while making Australia’s farms more resilient to climate variability. The Future Farm Industries CRC recently ended its seven-year research program with a string of successes, including two Eureka national science awards for its use of native perennials and shrubs to create drought resistant pasture systems. These new pastures can improve nutrition for livestock and help control intestinal parasites in sheep, reducing drenching and chemical costs. Following trials by the CRC with farmers in WA and NSW, these systems are in use across more than 1million hectares of farmland, and estimates suggest they could increase farm profitability by around $1.6billion by 2030.

The Future Farm Industries CRC also explored the possibility of planting woody crops, such as oil mallees, to diversify farm income from new industries such as aviation biofuels. In 2013, it won a CRC Association national award for innovation excellence for a low-emissions mallee harvester (capable of continuous harvesting) developed with Richard Sulman, Principal Engineer in Australian consultancy Biosystems Engineering.

160115_agricultureSMAUSTRALIA’S GLOBALLY competitive agronomists will also make greater use of genetics to improve crops and livestock. The Sheep CRC is using full genomic sequencing to improve the effectiveness of DNA tests used by wool and sheep meat producers when selecting breeding stock. The Dairy Futures CRC is involved in a global collaboration of more than 20 international participants led by Australian scientists to collect more than 1000 DNA sequences of bulls to identify gene mutations that cause embryonic death in dairy cattle (see page 20).

Four years ago, Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb led a review of Australia’s international agricultural research programs and found that when national investments in agricultural science, technology and training were taken into account, the number of people benefiting from Australian agricultural expertise was around 400million a year.

“We are good at this,” he wrote in an introduction to the report. “Australia has a longstanding worldwide reputation for excellence in science related to food and agriculture. This is an area where Australia can show leadership.”




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