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Wednesday, 04 November 2020 11:53

Tim Watts should stop venting on subjects of which he knows little

Tim Watts: Being given the cyber security portfolio sometimes does strange things to people. Ask Dan Tehan. Tim Watts: Being given the cyber security portfolio sometimes does strange things to people. Ask Dan Tehan. Courtesy YouTube

One has often lamented the fact that the Australian Labor Party decided to jettison the only politician in its midst who actually knew something about technology, namely Ed Husic, from its front bench, for solely political reasons.

The cyber-security portfolio now appears to have apportioned to Tim Watts; he is the only person with that subject as part of his portfolio. And in issuing a statement recently, about the claims made by the FBI regarding Iranian "attacks" ahead of the US presidential poll, he has shown why he should continue to remain in the shadows.

The few genuine journalists who still operate in the US have picked apart the drivel spouted by the FBI and shown it to be mere verbiage. Watts, it appears, prefers to follow the populist path.

It is surprising that he has chosen this line to take the attack to the Federal Government, when there are a dozen or more avenues to criticise Scott Morrison and his minions.

I received Watts' media release on this subject a few days back and promptly deleted it; for one, I did not want to report silly accusations and two, I did not want to make him look foolish.

But there are others who prefer to give Watts his few minutes of fame, and one can get an idea of the silliness of Watts' claims from some material I will pull from InnovationAus.

First off, Watts claims the "recent cyber attacks on the US election" are a "salutary warning for Australia". This is better fiction than anything ever written by Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie.

Why any country would bother influencing elections in Australia is a mystery. Yes, yes, I am aware that Australian politicians always claim "we punch above our weight", but, get real, that weight really isn't much to start with.

Australia is a middle-level power that is not taken very seriously because of its lapdog-like attitude to the US; many Asian leaders call it the deputy sheriff of the Americans.

Why would Iran bother meddling with anything in Australia – that is, if it did meddle with anything in the US? Why would any Iranian leader want to mess with a poll which the Democrat candidate, the man more likely to reinstate a nuclear deal that was ended by Donald Trump, is tipped to win?

Additionally, there is compulsory voting in Australia, so how exactly does one influence one side or the other? Nothing is done digitally; there is a paper trail all the way. In the US, one can prevent people from going to vote, sure, but the main entity attempting to do that is a homegrown one: the Republican Party.

Watts claims that Canberra is not doing anything to prevent a similar attack — whatever it was the Iranians are accused of doing — on non-government democratic institutions in Australia.

His whinge is: “While government security agencies provide robust cyber security protections for their parliamentary email systems, these protections stop when MPs use private email systems, social media accounts, CRMs, privately-hosted websites and smartphone apps."

And to grandstand a bit more, "The cyber-resilience of these non-government democratic institutions falls through the cracks of our current arrangements.”

So, if I get this right, Watts wants the government to protect MPs when they use "private email systems, social media accounts, CRMs, [customer relationship management systems] privately-hosted websites and smartphone apps". Really? Why?

If someone chooses to use a private app, it is their own problem. Why do we need a nanny state to look after what we do in private?

And then Watts uses a lot of gobbledy-gook to make his silly assertions appear as though they have some merit. "There’s no capacity-building program for our democratic institutions, no targeted cyber hygiene training, no real-time sharing of threat intelligence and no assistance with vulnerability assessments.

“Nor are there any public awareness campaigns on the nature of this threat to our sovereignty or any clear institutional responsibility for identifying and informing the public about cyber-enabled foreign interference.”

Please. Spare us this righteous posturing when the one man who understands cyber-security and matters digital is thrown out on his arse to bring in somebody else who can play to quotas and the woke left.

Watts should take a fortnight's break and read up on the bogus Russiagate affair in the US. Stories written by journalists like Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté and Chris Hedges are highly recommended. An hour or so spent watching the documentary A good American (available free on YouTube) is also recommended.

That would open anyone's eyes to the type of skullduggery that is practised using cyber-security as a cover.

A few years back, when Dan Tehan was vested with the mantle of cyber security by Malcolm Turnbull, he attempted to show that he was well up in the subject by writing an article that was pure drivel. I wrote a piece at the time, headlined: Why Dan Tehan should have nothing to do with cyber security.

Watts would do well to read that piece.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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