24 May, 2024


On 23 May 2024, auDA CEO Rosemary Sinclair AM spoke to host of 2GB Afternoons, Michael McLaren, about the Digital Lives of Australians 2024 research report.   

Michael McLaren: Look, I guess having been effectively forced into the digital realm, scams and cyber security threats are just an inevitable byproduct that we're going to just have to deal with. I can't see any other way around it. Perhaps you found yourself in a situation where your information has been at risk, or you've avoided doing something online in fear of having your information compromised. Well, if that's you, it turns out you're far from alone. Findings of a new survey have come out today. It's called the 2024 Digital Lives of Australians study. It's an important piece of work, this. It's done by not for profit, the organisation is called auDA and they actually regulate the country's top level domain, the .au domain. So, when you see a website that ends in .com.au, that's their work.

Now, their research tells us that almost four in five Australians reported a cyber security threat or attack over just the past year. 64 per cent of us actually avoid some online activities because we're so concerned about cyber security risks. And with the world continuously heading toward everything being online, the online banking, shopping, even medical appointments, done now online, it's more of a worry than ever. We're more active in this space. I suppose we're therefore more exposed. Well, somebody who understands this far better than me is Rosemary Sinclair AM. Now, Rosemary is the CEO of the auDA and she joins me on the line. Rosemary, thank you for your time.

Rosemary Sinclair: Absolute pleasure, Michael.

Michael McLaren: It's important work, this study. Some of those statistics, I got to say, alarming, but I think probably not so, they're just factual. And for a lot of Australians, this is the truth, that we are worried about our presence online and we're particularly worried about the security around that.

Rosemary Sinclair: Yes, that's exactly right and we've been doing this research, as you say, each year. What we want to understand is how the community's going with their online experience. You know, what's good about it, what's worrying them about it, and then we talk with all sorts of organisations that try and put in place programs like Cyber Wardens, which is an online cyber security program, or policies or training materials to help with those challenges. Because, as you say, our online life is our life.

Michael McLaren: Indeed it is. We really are not able to avoid it very easily these days. It's not just individuals, though, that you are looking at here. You have a particular interest in small business in this space, don't you?

Rosemary Sinclair: Yes, absolutely, and I was really interested, just before I came online to listen to the program and I think it was three or four times people were advertising with a .com.au, which I'm delighted about, but it just shows the absolute relevance of the online presence for Australian small businesses. It's really critical.

Michael McLaren: It is. What are some of the stats that stood out to you in this year's survey, Rosemary?

Rosemary Sinclair: Well, the first one was just that experience that, you know, almost 80 per cent of Australian consumers and some around about 65 per cent of Australian small businesses have been directly impacted by a cyber threat or attack. You know, that certainly fits with the global cyber threat environment that I think about every day, but it's a very big number. And coming from that number are some more statistics that tell us that small businesses want to be able to do more about protecting their businesses, but they're not sure how to do it. They're expecting to have more support in terms of cyber skills. So almost 80 per cent of small businesses say they want more cyber skills and support in that area. So my thoughts, you know, small businesses are now really aware of this issue in a way they weren't a couple of years ago. They're prepared to take action, but it's got to be simple and streamlined and straightforward because, of course, they're busy running their businesses.

Michael McLaren: Well, this is right. But see, Rosemary, big or small, I happen to think that all businesses need to take cyber security, the retention of the vast amounts of data about their customers that they hold more seriously. We hear often about the big cases, the Optus' and the ClubsNSW, reasonably all the rest of it, but there would be hundreds and thousands of examples where small businesses have also been compromised. But you see, part of the problem here, is it not, is that they are requesting too much data of their prospective customers and they're storing it for too long and so they make their own job harder than need be.

Rosemary Sinclair: Well, that's true, but if you think about this discussion about data, over what, the last 10 years, data's been new oil, the big asset. You know, think about all the things we're going to be able to do in terms of business products and services if we've got all this data. So, up until recently, collecting data has been seen as building assets. I think the approach people need to take now is to see any data they're holding as a liability and to manage it the way you manage other liabilities in business, which is to keep them as low as possible and to keep looking at them and checking. So, there's quite a cultural mindset shift to be made between data as an asset and now data as a liability. So, don't collect it and don't store it unless you really, really need it to deliver your customer service or product.

Michael McLaren: Well, I hope some people are listening to you when you say that, that's most important. Before you go, Rosemary, of course, it's not all bad. It's not all doom and gloom. The internet is providing wonderful opportunities and productivity enhancements and synergies and the rest of it, and indeed that comes through in your survey as well. A lot of people say, well, look, you know, this has been a very valuable asset in some respects.

Rosemary Sinclair: Yes, yes, yes, and the opportunities keep emerging. The innovation that the internet has made possible keeps coming at us, and the interest now is in artificial intelligence, and small businesses are really focused on artificial intelligence for the productivity improvements that they know will be there. So, that's the next emerging area of interest.

Michael McLaren: Wonderful to talk and we'll probably speak again same time next year with the next lot of data when it presents itself. Thank you for your time, Rosemary.

Rosemary Sinclair: Thanks, Michael.

Michael McLaren: All the best. Rosemary Sinclair, AM, as I said, the CEO of auDA, and they do wonderful work and some interesting numbers there.