Department of Agriculture boosts resiliency with Internet gateway project

CIO Graham Gathercole details security, data warehouse and telecommunications projects.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is negotiating a five-year contract with Macquarie Telecom under the Commonwealth’s Internet Gateway Reduction program, according to the department's CIO Graham Gathercole.

At the same time, the DAFF is setting up a massive data warehouse and plans to outsource a project to overhaul its telecommunications, Gathercole told CIO Australia.

The Internet Gateway Reduction program, which covers all government agencies governed by the Financial Management and Accountability Act of 1997, aims to reduce the risk of cyber attacks against government bodies. It has a goal of reducing the number of Internet gateways used by agencies to eight, down from 124. Each setup will include Defence Signals Directorate equipment and “two gateways with instantaneous failover capability,” Gathercole said.

The DAFF is one of eight lead agencies in the program, representing itself and 11 other agencies. “Our role was to set up the tender process, go to market, evaluate the responses and come up with a solution for ourselves and all of the other agencies within our grouping that met all of the cybersecurity requirements and provided considerably more resilience than what we have now,” Gathercole said.

DAFF was already a Macquarie customer before signing the head agreement with the telco, but the agency did consider alternatives, Gathercole said. “There were quite a number of companies considered ... against a fairly strict selection criteria,” he said. “Macquarie provided the best value for money.”

The next step is for the DAFF and the other agencies to make individual five-year contracts with Macquarie. The head agreement provided a “set of terms and conditions that Macquarie are bound to abide by in negotiating with each of the agencies in our group,” Gathercole said. DAFF and the other agencies will negotiate with Macquarie “about their level of services and what they require, and they’ll get a price based upon the terms and conditions.” DAFF will monitor the process and “make sure the allocation of costs is done correctly”.

The DAFF has already started its negotiation and Gathercole expects the talks to move quickly, he said. However, securing approvals from higher up in government could take one month to six weeks, he said. “In Australia, when you do a fairly significant contract like we’re all about to do, you generally have to go and get ministerial approval because it’s such a large dollar value."

Other agencies under DAFF’s umbrella do not appear to have begun their negotiations with Macquarie, he said.

While the Internet Gateway Reduction program may reduce costs for the government, Gathercole said he expects DAFF itself will pay Macquarie about the same amount for a more resilient environment. “I think that’s what’s going to happen across the Commonwealth—not so much savings as [much as] far more resilience. [Agencies will] get better bang for their dollar.”

Outsourcing the job could reduce staffing at some agencies, Gathercole. “For us, we already have our gateway outsourced so it’s no issue for us.”

Gathercole said three other lead agencies have head agreements in the works: the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Federal Police. More agencies could sign on to the DAFF’s head agreement if they choose, he said. “The beauty of the header agreement is that any government agency, should they desire to get into our group, could easily take advantage of it.”

The agencies represented by the DAFF are: Australian Antarctic Division; Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority; Department of Innovation Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education; Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population & Communities; Fair Work Australia; Geoscience Australia; Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and Wheat Exports Australia.

Other IT projects

While IT’s connection to agriculture, fisheries and forestry may not be immediately apparent, Gathercole said technology and communications is critical for the DAFF’s business. IT is particularly critical for the agency’s role in protecting biosecurity at the borders, he said.

“We have a very extensive network right across the country,” including 4500 people spread around most of the ports and airports where international imports and exports occur, he said. The department also has researchers and inspectors reviewing offshore container ships, he said.

The DAFF has recently purchased a Teradata box and is “in the process of standing that up,” Gathercole said.

“We’re trying to set up a very large data warehouse so the policy people can do their research and investigate all sorts of information and coordinate it." The warehouse also will help the agency decide what to inspect based upon a risk return, he said. “That requires a huge database of activity.”

The DAFF is also “in the process of going to the market” for all of its telecommunications, including its wide area network “and getting a whole new desktop telecom capability,” he said. In addition, the department is virtualizing its entire server back end, he said.

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