27 Jun 2016

Cyber security focus of US exercise

9:49 am on 27 June 2016

New Zealand is finally catching up when it comes to cyber security, analysts say.

The GCSB said cyber attacks were on the rise and that New Zealand was vulnerable.

It's New Zealand's third year participating in Cyber Flag. Photo: 123rf

Sixteen members of the military have spent the past week and a half participating in a cyber security exercise in the United States.

The exercise, Cyber Flag, runs until Thursday and is based at the defence facility in Suffolk, Virginia.

It is New Zealand's third year participating in Five Eyes exercise which simulating cyber attacks - and follows a White Paper saying the Defence Force will develop new cyber support capability.

Wing Commander Rhys Taylor, head of the New Zealand contingent, said his team had been holding its own against experienced operators.

The work was similar to what they did at home and used the same equipment, he said.

"It's a chance to increase those skills, there's so much we can do that we can't do back in New Zealand."

He said the New Zealanders were being asked for advice, and vice versa.

"I'm proud of the guys."

Mr Taylor said the exercise had been full-on with increasing numbers of attacks as time went on.

The coalition exercise involves about 2000 people. Using systems that mimic real-life communications networks, they face constant 'cyber threats' from opposition forces and aim to ensure military operations can continue.

Victoria University lecturer Joe Burton said there was a perception New Zealand was the weak link when it came to cyber security, particularly among the Five Eyes countries - the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

"I think we're actually in a pretty good position now."

The government had made progress with the creation of a National Cyber Security Centre and dedicated units within the Defence Force and Government Communications Security Bureau, Dr Burton said.

And the United States was one of "the world's pre-eminent cyber powers" and rubbing shoulders there would be good for New Zealand troops.

"We need to be able to send troops to Iraq or Afghanistan knowing that they can communicate safely, securely that those communication systems aren't going to be breached because that could ultimately lead to a loss of life."

Security analyst Paul Buchanan of 36th Parallel Assessments

Security analyst Paul Buchanan of 36th Parallel Assessments Photo: SUPPLIED

Paul Buchanan, head of consultancy firm 36th Parallel Assessments, said Western countries in general, but New Zealand in particular, had been behind the likes of China and Russia when it came to cyber security.

Recent developments enabled New Zealand to keep up with coalition partners, he said.

"We will see less troops in the battlefield and we will see more machines and computers in the year ahead."

And New Zealand was not immune on the domestic front where the major threats were from cyber crime, and hacking of government, military, and company systems, said Mr Buchanan.

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