Driving force in Australia’s cyber battlefield

It was mid 2000 when, driving home from work, Lynwen Connick – then the Assistant Secretary for Information Security at the Australian Signals Directorate – heard something on the radio she knew would change the world.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“It was headline news. Everyone’s computers are being infected with this virus that wrote, ‘I love you’ on their screens,” describing what was called the ‘Love Bug’ virus at the time.

"I just I just felt so, so emotional that my father had rang me and that he was so proud of what I had done and what the team had done.”

“And I suddenly thought, ‘this is going to be really important for us’. Cyber security, protecting people from things like this is going to become mainstream. And I thought that was incredibly exciting,” Connick recalled on a recent podcast with bluenotes.

What terrifies most people, invigorates Connick and stirs her passion for tackling the seemingly intractable.

It is a passion driven by the possibilities of science – first stirred as a youngster who loved science fiction - which has driven her to build a career in some of the most important cyber-security roles in the nation.

Ten years on from the ‘Love Bug’ virus and Connick had been elevated to the First Assistant Secretary for Cyber Policy and Intelligence for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

She was tasked with leading the first review of Australia's cyber security for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. This led to the first national cyber security strategy, which was launched in 2016.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“It was a wonderful event and I just remember how that felt. It was really a wonderful thing and an amazing day in so many ways,” she said.

After attending a press conference with the Prime Minister to launch the strategy she was at a celebratory lunch when she was asked to do a live interview with the ABC.

“I'd never done a live radio interview before, so that was a bit of an interesting, nerve-racking experience.”

Proudest day

As she waited to go on air, her father called to say he’d watched the live broadcast of the Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull) launching the cyber security strategy.

“The Prime Minister mentioned my name and the fact that me and my team had done a really great job on this strategy,” she recalls. “And he said, ‘this is the proudest day for our family Lynwen’. This is such an important day’.”

“I just I just felt so, so emotional that my father had rang me and that he was so proud of what I had done and what the team had done. And that was in 2016. He died the next year.”

“But it was such a special thing … It was really one of the best experiences in my working career.”

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

Cyber security was not always the path Connick planned for herself. Driven by a love of science she studied a science degree at Melbourne University, initially intending to be a physicist.

Connick chose the subjects of maths, chemistry, and physics – but was told she had to select one more subject.

“The careers advisor suggested I try computer science as my fourth subject. I was amazed from day one at how wonderful it was learning how to code systems, the possibilities.”

Immediately out of university she began a graduate position with the Bureau of Meteorology in Victoria.

“You realise how important weather forecasts are for customers and so for me it was really about understanding a customer and understanding what new technology can mean for them and how important it is to get it right.”

But it was her move into what is now the Australian Signals Directorate in the Department of Defence as a software developer in 1985 that changed her life. It would lead her on a two-decade journey to become the person advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet on intelligence and cyber issues.

Finding her voice at the most powerful tables in the nation has given Connick clarity about the goals society should set, particularly around empowering young women.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

She supports the “Go Girl, Go for IT” program which encourages Victorian school girls to take up careers in technology. She has also been the chair of the University of Melbourne’s advisory board to the Academic Centre of Cyber Security.

Connick says it is important for young women to see the example of women working in cyber security roles.

“They often have this image of people who work in technology or security as being men in hoodies, back room, not talking to other people,” she says. “We need a diverse group of people, including gender diversity, to have enough people working in these fields. But also to get that diversity of thought.”

She said technology and cyber security can be the key for women to access interesting roles all over the world.

Unexpected turns

“It's going to shape what we do in Australia, what countries do around the world to have these skills, no matter what you might end up specialising in or moving on to, is really important for everyone. But you can make a whole career in it and do some amazing things.”

When she moved to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2013 she became acting National Security Adviser just before Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine in July 2014. On board were 38 Australians.

“It was an incredibly tragic and difficult time. We had a lot of work to do to help the families of those people.”

Her experience offers Connick a view over the larger issues and how they now impact our daily lives. She says the thing that has changed the most in her working life is how ubiquitous cyber-crime is now.

“It wasn't something that happened every day. It wasn't headline news every day,” Connick says.

The business model of cyber criminals has transformed – it is now big business, with smaller set-up costs and off-the-shelf cyber attack tools which criminals use to target victims.

“Criminal gangs, even nation states, can make a lot of money in cyber crime. And the ease of doing it just got much simpler,” she says. “Organisations offer cybercrime as a service, so small organisations without the capacity of criminal gangs, without significant technical capacity can conduct crimes that give them an opportunity to access a lot of money.”

She says cyber-security is a crucial component to allowing a society to function and getting it right is very much about mindset. The culture at ANZ – which embraces diversity and inclusiveness – feeds into a strong security culture as well.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

“It's an organisation that does security really well, and that's important.”

But for Connick, understanding these vast changes in the world and adapting to them is about working with good people and embracing the opportunity, describing her time working with government and corporations as a “wonderful experience”.

“To travel the world, to talk to all sorts of organisations about what was important in cyber-security, what was happening, what did we need to do in Australia to be world class at this and to produce a strategy that was all about not just about the threat but the opportunity.”

Brett Foley is Managing Editor of bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

21 Jun 2023

Determination and tenacity aid police fraud investigation

Marc Broome | Senior Manager, Complex Investigations with Customer Protection, ANZ

Katarina is a young ANZ investigator who likes solving puzzles. Her curiosity aided a major Federal Police investigation.

01 Feb 2024

The cut and thrust of fairness in banking

Jeff Whalley | Senior Journalist, ANZ

ANZ Customer Fairness Advisor Evelyn Halls has received the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division.