Tue, 20 Aug 2019 - 10:01
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Cyber safety and cyber security: what’s the difference?


The recent addition of ‘cyber safety’ to the title of my portfolio – as Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts – underlines the Morrison Government’s focus on keeping Australians safe – including doing everything we can so that Australians have the most positive possible online experiences.

But a question I’m often asked is: what exactly is ‘cyber safety’ and how is it any different to ‘cyber security’?

Cyber security refers to the physical operation of the networks and computers over which the internet is delivered.

If a hacker obtains remote control of your computer and alters lines of code in its operating system; if a company’s network fails because hundreds of thousands or even millions of messages are directed at it by computers around the world; if a virus freezes all your data and criminals then contact you offering to unfreeze the data if you pay a ransom – those are all cybersecurity issues.

Under Minister Dutton, the Minster for Home Affairs, the Australian Cyber Security Centre works to assist businesses and individuals in preventing and responding to cybercrime and other threats posed by hackers. Enhancing cyber security education, innovation and partnerships helps keep Australians’ important data confidential, unchanged and available when they need it.

By contrast, cyber safety concerns the emotional and psychological impact of what you see, read and hear online.

If a teenager receives Facebook or Instagram messages from people she knows at school, telling her she is stupid or ugly or she should kill herself – that is a cyber safety issue. If a child sees age-inappropriate sexual or violent content online – that is a cyber safety issue. If an adult finds that a former partner has posted pictures of him or her naked on social media or on a pornographic website – that is a cyber safety issue.

Australians rightly expect that when they meet each other in the physical town square – a shopping mall, say, or in the school playground or in a pub or nightclub – that if they are exposed to danger, the law and the police will be there to protect them and to chase down and punish perpetrators of violence or abuse.  Australians similarly expect such protection to apply when they interact in the digital town square – on the internet or social media.  That is why the Australian Government has been working hard to make sure that legal protections – and resources allocated by Government – are in place to provide that protection, so Australians can be cyber safe.

Being cyber safe means meeting appropriate standards of behaviour in the content we put on the internet, knowing how to avoid harmful interactions online, and being equipped to seek help if things aren’t right.

Australia has led the way in cyber safety, including with the world’s first appointment of a national eSafety Commissioner in 2015.  The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, is supported by a significant office of specialists in this area, and administers a legally-enforceable regime to stop online bullying and so-called ‘revenge porn’ among other things, with the capacity to make an order for certain material to be taken down.

Extensive education and resources are available through the eSafety Commissioner, including practical things you can do to improve your and others’ online safety.

For example, ahead of the SBS broadcasting The Hunting - its new program about the effects of online abuse on adolescents and their families – the eSafety Commissioner worked closely with SBS, providing educational resources so that after watching the show, families, carers, teachers and schools can have vital conversations about healthy online behaviour, image sharing and the consequences of cyber bullying.

The Morrison Government is working with internet companies, schools and all Australians to set higher online safety standards and generate greater awareness of risks and responsibilities.

So, put simply:

  • cyber security means protecting data and information networks
  • cyber safety means protecting users from harmful online content

Keeping Australians safe online is a top priority for Prime Minister Morrison, for me as Minister and for the eSafety Commissioner.

If we are safe online, we can all enjoy the internet’s abundant resources of information, entertainment and social connection – while guarding against dangers and risks which can turn our internet experience from good to bad.