Clearing the way for cloud in National Security 

Australian Strategic Policy Institute Read time: 4 mins
We are passionate about cloud. This technology is blazing a transformational trail across the public and private sectors – both in Australia and around the world – but unfortunately it has yet to take firm root within National Security
Global Executive Client Forum blog It can be seen as an ICT shop issue, or a technologist issue, but we think if it is discussed that way it will probably lead to the wrong perspectives. We believe it should be talked about as a capability opportunity, and one for ministers and agency leaders to lead. Left to the ICT shop and the CIO it would probably be seen as a technical issue around efficiencies, security and budgets when actually it is far more than that.

Delivering advantage

So why is cloud infrastructure and cloud applications and services such a critical issue for the National Security community in Australia and that of our close partners? 
Because it’s about advantage. It’s about decision advantage and information advantage. The world’s best applications and creative minds are devoting their time and attention to cloud infrastructure and cloud applications. These teams, often found in small start-ups, are not designing and building for legacy ICT, they’re doing it for cloud solutions. This mean that the National Security community needs to pivot to this technology as well.
The whole reason governments invest in National Security agencies is to get insights that others don’t possess. In the last two or three decades those insights have predominately come from highly classified sources and intelligence and data-feeds that other people don’t have.
But over the same period there has been an explosion of open source data. The reason big technology companies are so dominant is that the value of their open source data has risen exponentially as the volume of it has increased. This means the National Security community can no longer rely on the insight advantage from highly-classified data alone. Today, the compelling insights and advantage now stem from the volume of open source data available.
For National Security agencies to deliver insights to government they need a unique advantage, but they must also have the advantage that their private sector and technology competitors have. This means they have to combine their highly classified data sets with the open source data sets that everybody else has, and that’s how they will have a compelling advantage over others. Those who would do us harm – state or non-state actors – are rapidly adopting these new capabilities. If we can’t keep up with their pace we will fall further behind.

Enabling capabilities

Cloud is also the enabler of all the future capabilities that are emerging – 5G, artificial intelligence and so on. As soon as you start getting away from fixed office work and using mobile systems and technologies you start needing to move data around and combine it. And big new defence platforms such as the Australian version of the Type26 Frigate are enormous collectors of data, but what are you going to do with this data after collecting it? You have to analyse it and provide insights to strategic and operational decision makers. Cloud infrastructure and services sit right in the middle of this process. 
To make sure this happens in the optimum way, cloud infrastructure needs to be built by a small number of trusted players allowing the biggest leverage from the national security community, including the big players from the private sector involved.
Then there’s the question of whether it should it be public cloud, private cloud or hybrid cloud? To gain decision and insight advantage a maximum data is needed before it can be manipulated by analytic tools. This means that a National Security cloud which covers multiple agencies would be most effective. Maximum data sharing can then occur apart for compellingly justified small pockets where they would be in a private cloud within that individual agency.

Leading the way

Unfortunately, the way agencies are funded and organised, the default setting can be “my data is my data and my risks are for me to control”. This means that what data is shared can be a sub-set leading to a low-optimised result.
That’s why this has to be led by minsters and agency leaders thinking beyond individual interests and putting the national interest first.  It will take some policy courage to get us over that line and bring the community together but it can be done – we just need to balance opportunity and risk.
The bottom line is that if Australia’s National Security community doesn’t transition to cloud infrastructure, it will cut itself off from the most powerful software and applications available and put itself in the position of using legacy software that vendors don’t support or that’s simply less capable than is possible.
Forget information advantage – information disadvantage will be the inevitable result if we miss this opportunity. The clock is ticking.
About the authors
Michael Shoebridge is Director of Defence Strategy and National Security Programme at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute 
Dr John Coyne is Head of Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement & Head of the North Australia’s Security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute 
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Michael Shoebridge and Dr John Coyne Australian Strategic Policy Institute 30 November 2020