CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The Ministry of Defense will recruit 130 cybersecurity experts within five years on top of the 51 who work at its new operations center.
The announcement was made by Defense Minister John Faulkner as he opened the doors of the new Cyber Security Operations Center within the Defense Signals Directorate building in the capital Canberra for the first time to journalists.
The recruits will be IT engineers, programmers and analysts, many of whom will move from the DSD.
Also working at the center will be representatives from the Defense Intelligence Organization, Australia's military, scientists from the Defense Science and Technology Organization and the domestic spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.
"Cyberspace is a battlefield," Faulkner told media at the opening. "Cybersecurity is one of the government's top national security priorities. Cyber intrusions on government, critical infrastructure and other information networks are a real threat to Australia's national security and national interests."
Faulkner said the new center will fit naturally with the DSD's role as the national authority on information security, providing government with protective security advice and assistance.
He also said that the defense department suffered up to 200 electronic security incidents each month in 2009.
The open-day event was the first time in the 63-year history of the Defense Signals Directorate that it has thrown open its doors to the media, many news outlets reported. Among the guests were U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, Canadian High Commissioner Michael Leir and New Zealand's High Commissioner John Larkindale.
A report on Radio Australia, part of the national Australian Broadcasting Corp., quoted the head of DSD, Ian McKenzie, saying it was "somewhat unusual for DSD. In fact, I'd probably say it's extraordinary rather than somewhat unusual."
McKenzie acknowledged that the "ready-made fit for purpose facility was just right for our purposes, although as long as you don't feel the strong need for windows and direct sunlight."
The Radio Australia reporter asked Faulkner if it was "fair to say that a lot of these attacks come from China."
Faulkner avoided a direct answer, saying only that "there is some evidence that electronic intrusion of Australian government sites has been conducted from overseas. But I stress that the nature of the Internet makes it difficult, perhaps impossible to attribute those attacks to exact sources."
Critics of the government have said that the has country been slow to boost its cyber intelligence work, especially in light of vastly increased broadband speeds that make the gathering of data faster and more in depth.
Last August the government warned its diplomats about a fake e-mail, saying that it could be part of a cyber espionage attempt from China.
At the time the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had briefed staff about the suspicious e-mail sent to several staff. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization would not comment on the report.
But a report in the Canberra Times said the e-mail was thought to come from China and was headed ''Australia-China Free Trade Agreement Negotiations Update."
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent and non-partisan think tank, warned in a recent report on cybersecurity that the country's close intelligence partnership with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand made it an obvious target for attack. The five nations are linked through the U.K.-U.S. intelligence pact.
Andrew Davies, from the institute, said it remains difficult to trace cyberattacks. ''For a well-conducted cyberattack, you would not be able to tell where it has come from. There has been an ongoing and consistent series of reports about cyberattacks in Australia."