The Federal Government has moved to step up its cyber warfare defence capabilities with the opening of the Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) announced as part of the Defence White Paper released last year.
The centre, housed inside the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) headquarters in Canberra, will provide critical understanding of the threat from sophisticated cyber attacks, according to the minister for defence, senator John Faulkner.
In November, Computerworld revealed the CSOC had already reached some operational capability but an acute lack of information on the offensive capabilities being developed remains with the government and Defence department refusing to divulge details.
There is also little clarity around its governance or oversight mechanisms, a circumstance that sparked calls from academics and information security analysts for greater public debate and disclosure.
“The Cyber Security Operations Centre will play a fundamental role in discovering and responding to sophisticated cyber threats to networks of national significance,” Faulkner said in a speech at the Centre’s opening.
He added the cyber security threats facing Australia came from individuals working alone; issue-motivated groups; organised criminal syndicates, as well as state-based adversaries. In early November, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) confirmed that Internet-based attacks have been used by hostile intelligence services to gain confidential Australian Government and business information.
“But the very nature of the Internet makes it difficult to precisely attribute the source of individual cyber incidents,” Faulkner said. “It is easy for those who seek to compromise, destroy or steal electronic information to hide in cyber space and remain anonymous.
The Federal Government already has evidence of sophisticated cyber intrusions onto government and private networks in Australia, Faulkner said.
“Not all are successful, but some have been - on a range of networks,” he said. “We must meet the challenge of detecting and stopping threats in the ever-changing, ever-adapting world of cyberspace. “
The Centre currently has 51 staff drawn from the Defence Signals Directorate but will grow to about 130 over the next five years drawn from agencies such as ASIO, the ADF, the AFP and the Attorney-General's Department.
“Each government agency represented in the Centre brings different expertise to respond to critical incidents,” he said. “Each has responsibility for delivery of particular cyber security outcomes.”
According to Faulkner, the CSOC was a key part of the Government's national cyber security initiative which included the November 2009 creation of the new national computer emergency response team, CERT Australia, and a current study on the number of Australian Government Internet gateways.