Australia has opened a new citadel to protect itself from attacks in what Defence Minister John Faulkner describes as the "battlefield" of cyberspace.
The opening of the Cyber Security Operations Centre follows a year in which defence computer networks were attacked by about 220 "security incidents" a month, with another 220 targeting other government systems.
It also follows warnings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute of the nation's increasing vulnerability to cyber attacks, putting at risk not only its defence system but also its economy, businesses, food production, power and water supplies, transport and telecommunications.
"Cyber intrusions on government, critical infrastructure and other information networks are a real threat to Australia's national security and national interests," Faulkner said at the opening of the new centre.
Operated by the highly secret Defence Signals Directorate, the centre is part of a series of moves launched last year under the Government's cyber security strategy, and involves specialists from the DSD, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the Defence Force, Federal Police and the domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
The specifics remain secret but the centre will advise the Government on how best to protect the nation from the cyber threat, linking expertise and intelligence in a co-ordinated response.
The centre and other initiatives under the strategy are being watched closely by key allies, whose secrets could also be compromised by attacks on Australian networks.
The Strategic Policy Institute warned in a special report on cyber security that Australia's close intelligence partnership with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand made the nation an obvious target for attack.
The five nations are linked tightly through the UKUSA intelligence pact.
New Zealand's High Commissioner in Canberra, John Larkindale, with US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Canadian High Commissioner Michael Leir, were among the guests at the opening of the centre.
An indication of the scale of the threat came with the figures of attacks on Australian defence and government systems provided by Faulkner, although no details were provided.
He said the threat came from a wide range of sources, including individuals working alone, groups driven by specific issues, organised crime and "state-based adversaries".
Faulkner would not be drawn on speculation that "state-based" hackers included China - identified as a cyber threat in international reports - but said there had been evidence of sophisticated intrusions into private and government networks in Australia.
Some had been successful.
Faulkner said cyber security had become a top priority because the nation was increasingly dependent on information and communications technology, which underpinned almost every function of government at all levels, from national infrastructure to health services.
"Businesses, private citizens, our government, our economy - all are heavily reliant on computer systems and the internet," he said.
The Strategic Policy Institute paper, written by cyber crime expert Alastair MacGibbon, a former director of the Australian High-Tech Crime Centre, said the manipulation of electronic data and information systems had made cyber attack a core national security priority.
MacGibbon said criminal exploitation of online systems had evolved from a cottage industry to a factory production line, with crime gangs joined by military and economic espionage and cyber warfare.
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