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Germany opens cyberdefence centre to protect water, electricity

Infrastructure the most important target for cybercriminals

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Germany today launched its new cyberdefence facility in Bonn, dedicated to defending the country's critical infrastructure, including its electricity and water supply. The facility is believed to be the first of its kind in Europe.

The Cyber-Abwehrzentrum in Bonn is located in a securely fenced office block of the Federal Office for Information Security. The centre is headed up by Michael Hange and members of the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BKK) and the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (BFV). Other agencies such as the Bundespolizei (Federal Police), the Federal Intelligence Service and Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) will join the centre in July.

Its new role – providing cybersecurity to key infrastructure on German soil – was already established a couple of months ago, when at a Security Conference in Munich German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared cyberwarfare "as dangerous as conventional war".

According to German interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, there is a cyberattack every two seconds on Germany. Those attacks have become more sophisticated and more targeted in recent years. De Maiziere said attacks on the German government network took place four or five times a day, and the attacks often originated from foreign sources.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Stefan Paris recently said that online espionage in Germany is also on the rise. "Germany is a very high-tech country with considerable experience and know-how, so others will naturally try to get hold of this knowledge – China is playing a large role in this."

NATO already considers cyberattacks among the greatest security threats to the developed world. One recent example was the Stuxnet worm, which targeted industrial software and infected computers controlling uranium enrichment plants in Iran.

Estonia is another country that is ramping up its cyberdefence strategy. The country's entire internet system in 2007 had to be switched off due to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, causing large amounts of public services to grind to a halt. Estonia has recently incorporated the Cyber Defense League, a volunteer force, into its military structure. The country is also the home of NATO's Center of Excellence in Cyber Defense.

Austria is building a substantial cyberdefence structure consisting of 1,600 soldiers as well as several secret service departments.

The Netherlands' Defence minister Hans Hillen recently said that the Dutch armed forces need to spend part of their budget for 2011 on cyberwarfare-related activities, although a national cybersecurity centre still needs to be established.

Last year, the UK government highlighted cybersecurity as one of the Tier 1 security risks facing the UK. The government said it planned to spend £650m on improved cybersecurity. The US, meanwhile, opened up its own Cyber Command as part of the military in 2009.

France is now considering combining the efforts of all of its government agencies that have thus far been tasked with identifying and combating cyberattacks into a specialised unit. ®

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