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Spark in talks with GCSB over expansion of Cortex cyber defence

Tuesday 29th May 2018

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Spark New Zealand is in talks with the Government Communications Security Bureau over potentially expanding the outward-facing intelligence agency's Cortex malware disruption defence to the country's biggest retail service provider. 

The minister responsible for GCSB, Andrew Little, today announced the intelligence agency will expand its Malware-Free Networks programme, after a successful pilot with Vodafone New Zealand and some of the telco's customers, which was estimated to have saved almost $40 million of harm from avoided cyber attacks, such as intellectual property theft, copyright and patent infringement, and espionage. Little has previously said 66 nationally significant public and private sector organisations fell under the Cortex umbrella. 

"Expanding this service will significantly increase the range of organisations receiving the cyber defence services government offers New Zealand's organisations of national significance through the GCSB," Little said in a statement. "I expect over the next two years a substantial number of New Zealand's nationally significant organisations will have engaged with the GCSB on Malware-Free Networks." 

The Cortex technology lets the GCSB's National Cyber Security Centre analyse, detect and disrupt cyber threats against public and private sector organisations, and from that, the unit draws insights it can provide cyber security advice to hundreds of nationally significant organisations. 

Spark supports the intelligence agency's goal to protect organisations of national significance and has been "liaising with GSCB about participation in the Malware-Free Networks programme," a spokesman said in an emailed statement. "Our discussions are ongoing and as yet we haven’t made any agreement or commitment to participate."

The GCSB has been keen to roll-out the Cortex technology with an internet service provider since 2014, but had to wait until 2016 before it launched a pilot after ministers wanted the intelligence agency to do some more work before signing off on the initiative. 

That initial proposal would have seen an industry-led deployment on a cost-recovery basis, although the intelligence agency backed away from that in the pilot, bearing the cost of that mini-deployment, and Little today said the expansion will be covered by the GCSB's baseline. 

The intelligence agency's funding got a boost in the 2015/16 financial year when total appropriations, including capital expenditure, rose to $135.1 million from $86.8 million the year earlier. Its estimated actual spend for the current financial year is $138.6 million compared to a budgeted $158 million, and it's been allocated $153.3 million for 2019, dropping down to $129.6 million the following year, $122.4 million in 2021 and rising to $143.3 million in the final year of the 2018 budget horizon. 


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