Light Horse brigade for cyber future

The Australian National University’s big new initiative in the 21st century cyber domain has a surprising resonance with the nation’s military history of a century ago.

Late in 2017, the ANU National Security College (NSC) took a high-level delegation of cyber academics, government officials and start-up entrepreneurs to Israel to coincide with the centenary of the charge of the Australian Light Horse at the Battle of Beersheba.

The visit was the opportunity for the delegation’s leader, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Dan Tehan, to announce the University’s establishment of the nation's first interdisciplinary Cyber Institute.

The Institute, now in its establishment phase, will be jointly managed by the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) and the NSC.

But what does cyber security have to do with the Light Horse troops of ANZAC legend you ask? Bear with me.

For Australians, the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917 was where a young nation won a key battle of the First World War – 800 men of the Light Horse made the last successful cavalry charge in history.

They captured the strategically important town and its wells – vital infrastructure in a desert campaign. The bold action was a turning point in the defeat of Germany’s Turkish allies.

For Israelis, the place is something else entirely. The city of Beersheba has risen from the sands to be Israel’s Silicon Valley, where tech start-ups work with universities and government to make this small nation a global cyber technology leader.

The business side of our visit to Israel was all about learning the secrets of this small nation’s extraordinary success in fostering cyber innovation. It holds lessons for Australia – and for the new ANU Institute.

But while we were at Beersheba, we realised we could also learn from our own history.

The famous charge of 1917 called for courage and inventiveness. Australia’s mounted infantry surprised their Turkish and German opponents by fighting as cavalry – making a sudden headlong charge using bayonets as swords, too unexpectedly for the defenders to bring firepower to bear.The counter-intuitive use of this tactic underlines the resourcefulness, agility and risk taking we will need as a nation to handle the treacherous terrain of cyberspace.