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Does Aotearoa have a cybersecurity issue?

8 April, 2024

Interview by Oto Sequeira, adapted by Shane Tozier

Professor of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, Giovanni Russello, warns that “Kiwis are going to suffer” if the government does not take steps to protect New Zealanders from cybersecurity threats.

In August 2021, governments internationally; including the US, Australia, and New Zealand, experienced a cyberattack speculated to have been executed by a cyberterrorism organisation with links to China.

In New Zealand, the group targeted the Parliamentary Service, which supplies Parliament and its MPs with administrative support and services, and the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO), which releases and drafts legislation.

Aotearoa’s corporate sector has also experienced regular cybersecurity breaches. In 2023 alone, there were over 100 corporate victims of cybercrime.

Professor in Computer Science and Cybersecurity at the University of Auckland, Giovanni Russello, told 95bFM’s The Wire a lack of legislation around business infrastructure is one of New Zealand's main cybersecurity issues. 

“Because [businesses] use standard tools like a Microsoft product, there are going to be scammers looking globally to try to find vulnerabilities and exploit them.”

Cybersecurity issues disproportionately affect small and medium enterprises — which make up 97% of organisations in New Zealand

According to Russello, because these businesses have limited cybersecurity capacity, they often utilise less reputable infrastructure to store confidential information. 

He says New Zealand is in a “precarious situation” and the government needs to take action to ensure we are not vulnerable to cyberattacks.

“We need to start introducing stringent legislation similar to the regulation that we have for health and safety.”

While he acknowledges New Zealand has limited resources, Russello says there needs to be more investment in cybersecurity across business, government, and academic sectors.

“If we don't start investing in people and infrastructure, the situation is only going to get worse.”

Rather than relying on other countries like the Five Eyes network which have their own security goals, Russello says politicians should think about New Zealand's unique cybersecurity needs.

“At the end of the day, if New Zealand is not able to keep up, then Kiwis are going to suffer.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air