As portfolio shuffle boosts cybersecurity powers, IBM moves the encryption bar

Pervasive encryption likely to pose new headaches as government pivots to be more responsive to infosec threats

The irony was most certainly unintentional, but prime minister Malcolm Turnbull nonetheless found himself announcing a major shakeup of law-enforcement authorities and cybersecurity practices a day after IBM debuted a significant new security platform that could make their job even harder than before.

In a significant shakeup of federal law-enforcement agencies, Turnbull announced a restructuring. Key is the appointment of current immigration minister Peter Dutton to head a new Home Office portfolio that, Turnbull’s office said in a statement, “will provide strategic planning, coordination and other support to a ‘federation’ of independent security and law enforcement agencies” including ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The shakeup will also see the Australian Signals Directorate – which has long held a leadership role in Australia’s information-security community and recently updated its widely-referenced Top Mitigation Strategies – rolled into the Defence portfolio, as well as giving the Attorney-General’s office greater oversight over intelligence activities.

“For over a decade, successive governments have responded to worsening security trends with ad hoc arrangements to strengthen coordination and cooperation between Australia’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies,” the statement said.

“The evolving and complex threats to Australia’s security require more enduring and better integrated intelligence and domestic security arrangements.”

The shakeup will also create a central Office of National Intelligence and provide for 24x7 response capabilities for cybersecurity incidents within the Australian Cyber Security Centre, reflecting the government’s increasing concern about cybersecurity attacks.

This concern was alluded to in the announcement, which noted an “increasingly complex security environment…and the development of new and emerging technologies, including encryption.”

The announcement suggests a broadening of the government’s attack on encryption providers, which this month saw Turnbull squaring off against the laws of mathematics as he asserted that Australia would pass laws to force communications service providers to decrypt customer data on demand.

Yet the government’s restructuring came on the heels of a significant new product launch from IBM, which released a high-volume encryption platform, called Z, that allows businesses to encrypt all of their data on an ongoing basis.

Z represents “the biggest re-invention and expansion of its mainframe technology” since it shifted its mainframes to run on Linux some 15 years ago, the company said in a statement on the technology’s release.

The platform, which was designed in consultation with CSOs at other security experts at 150 of the firm’s clients, includes purpose-built hardware and software to facilitate the encryption and decryption of data fast enough to handle 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.

Entire databases, application environments and even APIs can be encrypted automatically with no changes to existing configurations, IBM says, crediting a 7x increase in cryptographic performance that makes the new system 18 times faster than comparable x86-based systems.

Tamper-detecting hardware is designed to protect millions of keys in dedicated memory, and can detect signs of attempted break-ins and instantly disable the keys until the event is investigated.

“The pervasive encryption that is built into, and is designed to extend beyond, the new IBM Z really makes this the first system with an all-encompassing solution to the security threats and breaches we’ve been witnessing in the past 24 months,” said Peter Rutten, analyst with IDC’s Servers and Compute Platforms Group, in a statement.

IBM expects the Z platform will appeal to high-end customers such as banks, retail companies, healthcare and government providers, which particularly face new governance requirements from the impending European Union general data protection regulation (GDPR) when it comes into effect next year.

However, its ability to encrypt all data by default – due to what IBM calls “significant advances in cryptography technology” – may raise eyebrows as government authorities continue to complain about the level of encryption in today’s online world and the challenges it presents to authorities.

Tags Malcolm TurnbullAustralian Federal PolicePeter DuttonAustralian Cyber Security CentreAustralian Border Forcethe Australian Criminal Intelligence Commissionlaw-enforcement authorities

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