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OUTPUT 1.3: Secure government communications and security of overseas missions
Output 1.3 Effectiveness indicators
- The department’s Information Technology and Information Management Strategy implemented to ensure timely and secure access to information by Australian and overseas-based officers.
- Risk-based contingency plans for overseas missions maintained; advice and funding provided for essential physical and technical security measures consistent with threat assessment levels.
- Effective responses coordinated by the department to unexpected events and crises in Australia and overseas that impact on the security of government communications and overseas missions.
The department manages the Australian Government’s international diplomatic communications network. The network provides secure communications for the department with direct electronic links to 13 other government agencies, and a hard-copy service to over 100 agencies and parliamentary offices. It links Australia with the 87 overseas posts, and provides timely and secure access to classified and other official information. We also provide security for Australia’s overseas missions against physical threat and attempts to compromise the security of information they hold.
To ensure that the department is well placed to meet the Australian Government’s secure communications requirements into the future, we initiated a major review of our information technology needs. The review proposed a new IT governance structure, which we are putting in place. The review was a key element in implementation of our Information Technology and Information Management Strategy.
The review also confirmed the importance of moving ahead with the replacement of the Australian Diplomatic Communications Network (ADCNET). We have begun to put in place the Secure Australian Telecommunications and Information Network (SATIN) communications system to replace ADCNET over the next three years, in the largest IT project the department has undertaken.
We concluded the work begun last year on consolidation of the portfolio’s IT infrastructure under the Government’s IT Outsourcing Initiative. The process delivered a number of benefits but agencies have agreed to pursue the objectives of the Initiative separately, in line with the Government’s decision in response to the Humphry Review.
We continued to give priority to providing physical security in accordance with assessed threat levels for Australian missions overseas. In response to the disturbances in Solomon Islands, we upgraded security in the Chancery and staff residences to ensure the personal safety of staff.
The department continued to implement the initiatives reported last year to improve security awareness and practice among our own staff and staff of other agencies at overseas missions. A new feature has been training on threats posed by hackers and on the importance of good IT security practice on passwords and avoidance of viruses carried by e-mail. We continued the initiatives begun last year on IT security, establishing a dedicated team devoted to IT security administration, and imposing stricter controls on electronic access to documents.
SATIN development staff Andrew Fry and Paul D'Olimpio developing the FlyAway unit for use in transitional or temporary locations.
Information management and secure communications access
In September 2000, the department completed a thorough strategic review of its IT management and future needs.
The review, conducted by a departmental Deputy Secretary, provided management with better information on the IT systems and applications used in the department, and their cost. It identified key issues that need to be taken into account in planning and managing the systems, and confirmed the need to move ahead with the replacement of ADCNET with SATIN.
The review recommended improvements to IT governance arrangements. In response, we established a new governance structure. We designated as Chief Information Officer the First Assistant Secretary of the Diplomatic Security, Property and Information Management Division, with responsibility for overseeing all aspects of IT within the department. An IT Strategy Committee (ITSC) advises the Secretary on overall planning and strategic direction for IT across the department. The committee is steering development and implementation of a Five Year IT Plan covering all departmental IT systems.
The department pursued the objectives of the Government’s IT Outsourcing Initiative by working with Austrade and AusAID towards the consolidation of the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio IT infrastructure. This process delivered a number of benefits, including greater transparency of the costs of delivering IT services in the three agencies. In particular, we consolidated IT support arrangements at posts with AusAID, and we are sharing international telecommunications links and jointly developing the SATIN system.
Beyond these benefits, however, the consolidation process highlighted the degree of divergence in the operational needs of the three agencies, which made it unlikely that a complete consolidation of infrastructure would generate the efficiencies originally envisaged. Consequently, the agencies agreed to pursue the objectives of the Initiative separately.
The outcome is consistent with the Government’s decision, in response to the Humphry Review, that responsibility for the implementation of the Initiative be devolved to individual agencies. The department’s long-standing approach to outsourcing, which is to outsource selectively where there is a sound business case to do so and where risks can be properly controlled, is consistent with the recommendations of the Humphry Review. We signed a contract in May 2001 to outsource our remaining mainframe operations, used principally for processing passports data. We also outsourced some specialised IT training functions during the year.
Reliable telecommunications links are essential to an effective diplomatic communications system. A number of international carriers provide such links, which a Network Operations Centre in Canberra manages. We released a request for tender in January 2001 for provision of international telecommunications services across the network. Our objectives are to ensure that we are receiving value for money in the international communications services market, and that we will be able to meet expected increases in requirements.
Some posts suffer very poor telecommunications links, significantly hampering their ability to operate at high levels of effectiveness. We have remedied this by extending the Merlin Satellite Communications System to another three posts (Bali, Noumea and Ho Chi Minh City) and will continue to seek further improvements to telecommunications links.
The adoption of new network management tools has given us the ability to improve monitoring and management of traffic on our telecommunications network. This allows us to take a more active approach to finding faults, as well as improving security and service to network users.
We made significant progress on developing a better database system to manage our consular services. Such a system will improve our capacity to meet the growing demand for consular services.
SATIN deployment and telecommunications
Following the deployment of the SATIN communications system in Canberra in 2000, we prepared for its global rollout to begin in the second half of 2001. This will be the largest IT project the department has undertaken. The federal Budget allocated funding of $36 million over three years for the rollout. The department will contribute a further $54 million. SATIN will ultimately replace both the secure ADCNET and the Non-National Secure system, which is our main corporate business system. We will reduce support costs and increase productivity through the replacement of ageing hardware, the standardisation of software across both systems and the accessibility of both networks by authorised users from a single desktop unit.
SATIN was successfully installed in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in December 2000. We will install the system at other government agency sites in Australia in conjunction with the overseas rollout.
Physical and technical security overseas
The department reviewed its arrangements for managing crises overseas (see also sub-output 2.1.1) and introduced new emergency management instructions applying to all our overseas posts. The revised instructions include a template for post contingency plans and require that, within a 12-month transition period, all posts must prepare and maintain risk-based contingency plans to ensure the safety and welfare of Australian nationals. The instructions provide detailed guidance on the preparation of streamlined contingency plans and responding to crisis situations, and sets out new, detailed, guidelines on evacuation procedures.
To support its plans, the department conducted joint contingency planning visits with the Department of Defence to a number of posts in the Asia-Pacific region regarded as being of high risk from a contingency planning perspective. A formal training program for Canberra-based staff dealing with overseas crises was also established over the period. Reflecting events in their host countries, contingency plans were activated over the year in response to events in Solomon Islands, Port Moresby, Suva, Nepal and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The department continued to provide physical security for Australian missions overseas, at a cost of $9.058 million. We responded to the threat from disturbances in Solomon Islands by improving perimeter security for the mission and residences, and installing safe havens within all staff residences. In Port Moresby, following the disturbances in March, we reviewed physical security arrangements and provided for increased guarding services at the mission and residences.
The department directly commissioned and exclusively managed the Dili staff residential project, a compound of 12 demountable residential units. The April 2001 monthly supplement in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald’s E Mag rated the compound as one of the ten most innovative housing achievements in the world in 2000.
We are responsible also for protecting Australia’s overseas missions against technical and electronic attack. As part of a regular inspection program, we carried out inspections of 17 posts and assisted in three new chancery openings. We provided technical security support to five Prime Ministerial overseas visits. Participation in an exchange program with Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States helped us continue to improve our technical security capacity.
Security awareness and practice
The department worked to maintain high standards of security awareness and practice in Australia and at overseas missions.
Our officers contributed to the ‘Security in Government’ conference held in April 2001 by the Attorney-General’s Department, presenting a session on improving security awareness.
Security awareness training is compulsory for all staff going overseas, including staff from attached agencies. We added to the course a demonstration of the risks associated with IT systems, particularly the vulnerability of personal computers connected directly to the Internet. A total of 169 staff from the department and 117 from attached agencies attended the courses. Participant feedback revealed a high degree of satisfaction. All posts have received training aids to facilitate annual security training.
We conducted regular security awareness courses for departmental staff in Australia. A total of 435 staff attended the awareness courses this year.
We continued the program of regular after-hours inspections of work areas, designed to prevent possible compromise of classified and otherwise sensitive material and ensure staff compliance with key security procedures, including a ‘clear desk’ policy. Following continued emphasis by managers on security awareness, we achieved a further 53 per cent reduction in instances of inappropriate storage of classified information, substantially building on the 58 per cent improvement achieved in the previous reporting year.
Access controls to restricted areas
We began work on improving the physical protection for the RG Casey building in Canberra. Following a review of the system of controls limiting access to departmental premises to authorised persons, we will construct new barriers in the building and introduce greater controls on after-hours access throughout it.
The department conducted 148 initial security clearances for new staff and 254 security clearance reviews for other staff. This represented a return to a more normal number of reviews. The department had conducted more reviews than usual in 1999–2000, following a pause in the previous year, while the department re-examined the process. We contributed to two separate interdepartmental working groups looking at ways to improve the security clearance process. A review of security clearances for locally engaged staff and their access to restricted areas enhanced security arrangements at overseas missions.
IT and security
The department has upgraded the protection afforded to information stored on IT systems. Pivotal in this process has been demonstrating to staff the threats posed by hackers, and the importance of good IT security practice on passwords and avoidance of viruses carried by e-mail. We continued to improve IT security administration. IT security inspections were conducted at six posts to ensure compliance with departmental instructions and to provide advice on measures to reduce emerging risks.
The Online Graduate Recruitment System
We developed and introduced an Online Graduate Recruitment (OGR) system, enabling lodgement of applications for graduate trainee positions through the Internet. The OGR system sits on Lotus Notes, the department’s standard IT database and messaging platform.
The system provided a secure environment that enabled candidates for the department’s 2002 graduate trainee program to provide detailed information such as academic qualifications, work experience, extra-curricular activities, languages, prizes and scholarships, publications and comments addressing selection criteria online. Candidates were also able to update their contact details throughout the application process.
The system significantly streamlined this year’s graduate recruitment process, and achieved considerable time savings. It also greatly reduced the amount of paperwork, and offered a simple method of sorting, filing and managing applications and applicant inquiries. Of the 2,534 applicants for our 2002 graduate trainee program, 99.5 per cent (all but 12) submitted applications through this system. Applicants living or travelling overseas found the OGR system particularly convenient because of its worldwide availability.