Home Government Tech Policy Greens 'bewildered' by kerfuffle over Microsoft's Protected cloud status
Senator Jordon Steele-John has been a lone voice raising questions over the Protected cloud status granted to Microsoft. Senator Jordon Steele-John has been a lone voice raising questions over the Protected cloud status granted to Microsoft. Supplied Featured

The Australian Greens say they are "bewildered" at the way the Australian Signals Directorate has handled Microsoft's application for Protected cloud certification and the subsequent departure of a top female officer from the agency's ranks.

Protected cloud is the highest security classification for vendors and allows a company to apply for contracts to store top-secret Australian Government data.

In response to queries from iTWire, Greens' digital communications spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said: "A staffer within the Australian Signals Directorate dared to refuse an application from foreign multinational company, Microsoft.

"This application ensured secure cloud services receiving protected certification. Approving this certification meant that Microsoft overseas employees could access secure information for government departments.

“This senior staffer, in refusing the application, was moved to a different position, then took immediate leave and resigned."

Senator Steele-John was referring to the claims made in an article published by the website InnovationAus.com on Tuesday.

In April, Microsoft was announced as having gained Protected cloud status for its Azure and Office 365 services. Questions were raised about the certification after the ASD issued a consumer guide containing a number of fiats about the services.

The InnovationAus.com report, authored by veteran James Riley, said the ASD staffer, Melissa Osborne, had been responsible for the certification of the first four cloud providers to gain Protected status: Dimension Data, Macquarie Telecom, Sliced Tech and Vault Systems. She was said to have been overseeing Microsoft's application but, when she refused to grant it on security grounds, was removed from her role by ASD director-general Mike Burgess.

Senator Steele-John said: "The Australian Signals Directorate's handling of this shows a stunning culture of multinational corporation preference. The government appears willing to fire their own employees if they dare question the intentions of multinational corporations, which could risk the Australian public's right to security of our data.

"Urgent questions need to be answered in relation to the circumstances surrounding Ms Osborne's departure from the ASD. Government should not be shifting staff around when they are dare to refuse applications to multinationals."

In June, it was reported by iTWire and InnovationAus.com that a small Australian outfit, Secure Collaboration, had been knocked back after applying for Protected cloud status, although it had gone through all the procedures and processes required by the ASD. Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor has promised a review of the company's case.

"Waving through Microsoft's application shows a preference for multinationals over Australian companies who are willing to remove senior officials from roles in order to keep the money rolling in. We have questioned this in Senate Estimates and could not get an answer," Senator Steele-John, referring to the case of Secure Collaboration.

The Greens Senator is the lone Australian politician to have raised queries around the issue of granting Protected cloud status to Microsoft, having grilled Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Institute and national cyber security adviser, during a Senate estimates hearing in May.

iTWire sought comment from the Australian Labor Party about the two issues mentioned above, but has not received any response as yet.

Microsoft has been allowed to have staff based abroad handle systems on which top-secret data is stored. For the other four Australian companies, only staff vetted by the ASD can administer these systems.

"It seems that there is one rule for multinational corporations, and another rule for Australian businesses, who are yet to get a look in to providing Protected cloud services to the Australian Public Service," Senator Steele-John said.

"Australians have a right to know that the corporate interest is not being put ahead of the the security of our data."

In a post on her LinkedIn page, Osborne denied that Burgess had been responsible for her exit. "Disappointed to read this article blaming DGASD Mr Mike Burgess for my resignation from Defence," she wrote.

"Mike has been nothing but supportive of my career and has provided me with encouragement and mentorship. I was not consulted by the author of the article, nor was Mike."

The ASD was contacted for its response, which is detailed here.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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