Australia’s Gillard to Establish Office to Combat Cyber Attacks

Australia will establish a security center to combat cyber crime after government departments received more than 400 attacks in the year to June 30, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today.

Cyber attacks cost the economy about A$1.65 billion ($1.74 billion) last year, with 5.4 million Australians targeted, Gillard said in an e-mailed statement. The Australian Cyber Security Centre will open in Canberra by late 2013, she said.

“Securing and protecting our networks, and ensuring confidence in the online environment, is pivotal to Australia’s economy,” Gillard said. “Cyberspace is increasingly a strategic asset for Australia.”

Gillard made the announcement a day after a report published by Akamai Technologies Inc. said about one-third of the world’s cyber-attack traffic was traced back to China. This week she rolled out a defense strategy with more emphasis on diplomatic relations in the Asia-Pacific region in a new era where “some risks and challenges endure and others are evolving rapidly.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in October that intelligence agencies in the U.S., a major ally of Australia, were seeing an increase in cyber threats that could become as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks if they weren’t stopped.

Gillard’s government last year banned bids from Huawei Technologies Co., China’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, to help build Australia’s national broadband network. That followed a move by the U.S. Commerce Department in October 2011 to bar Huawei from a contract, citing national security concerns.

Huawei’s Stance

Huawei has repeatedly run into opposition from U.S. lawmakers, who have cited concerns about security because of alleged links to China’s military, which the company has denied. The company’s Australian unit yesterday said industry must be part of a solution to cyber threats.

“As one of the world’s largest information and communications technology companies, Huawei is encouraged by the government’s vision to bolster Australia’s cyber security defenses,” Huawei Australia Chairman John Lord said in a statement on its website. “Huawei stands ready and willing to work with industry and government to make this vision a reality.”

Australia and the U.S. pledged in September 2011 to jointly thwart potential threats in cyberspace as they would other military attacks under their 60-year-old military treaty.

Australia will hold joint military exercises and high-level military exchanges with China, Gillard said yesterday. Such exercises may include the U.S., Defense Force chief David Hurley told the Australian newspaper in an interview published Dec. 27.

About 73 percent of Australians use the Internet more than once a day, and its use is estimated to be worth A$50 billion to the economy, Gillard said.

The new center will be responsible for analyzing the nature and extent of cyber threats, work closely with infrastructure sectors and industry partners, and give advice and support to develop preventative strategies to counter cyber threats, according to her statement.

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