After opening with a limited staff in April, Germany's Cyber Defense Center is now fully operational. The new center is tasked with evaluating cyber attacks and developing defenses.
The center will focus on attacks on infrastructure
Germany's new Cyber Defense Center was officially opened by Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich at a ceremony in Bonn on Thursday.
The Center, which has actually been operating with a small staff since April, is tasked with spotting and evaluating cyber attacks and with developing counter-strategies. Most importantly, Friedrich said at the ceremony on Thursday, that means protecting institutions that are important for society as a whole, such as public utilities.
"The core of cyber security is the protection of crucial infrastructure," he said. "We must recognize that the danger of an attack on these systems is growing."
As of Thursday, the now fully-functioning Cyber Defense Center will bring together specialists from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Federal Criminal Police Agency, the German Intelligence Agency, the customs office, the Federal Office for Civil Protection, and the military. It operates under the authority of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).
NATO now counts cyber attacks as one of the greatest security threats in the modern world - alongside terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The so-called Stuxnet worm, which targeted industrial software in the summer of 2010, infected computers controlling uranium enrichment plants in Iran. That showed the world that highly-developed viruses can penetrate enemy infrastructure as if they were digital cruise missiles.
Cyber criminals are no longer just small-time hackers
"Now we have the evidence," Ritter told Deutsche Welle. "It's not just a fictional threat any more, talked about by a few experts in a back room. It's a genuine threat, which is really there, and that threat is extremely big and extremely sophisticated."
The Stuttgart-based technology expert Sandro Gaycken says that the profile of hackers has also changed over the years - in the past they were mostly teenagers or shady criminals.
"The fact that governments now also have their own teams of hackers is a new phenomenon and of course they are much better equipped, much more powerful than these average small-scale hackers," Gaycken said. "And no one's really prepared for that."
Threats to national security
Gaycken's assessment was shown to be accurate recently in Australia. Intelligence officials tipped off the Australian government that the computers of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and ten of her ministers had been hacked into, giving spies access to thousands of e-mails for at least a month.
A few days earlier, the European Commission in Brussels also said that its e-mail system had been attacked at a time when they were discussing important issues such as the crisis in Libya and the future shape of the eurozone rescue fund.
Cyber espionage costs the economy
As part of the cyber security strategy the German government has also initiated a new task force, "IT security in business," as most cyber attacks are still aimed at economic targets.
Friedrich hopes for close cooperation with the business community
In April Germany launched the "National Cyber Security Council," which represents the German chancellor, the federal states and a number of ministries.
The Council is tasked with strengthening cooperation between state and business in the area of cyber security. It's the job of the new Cyber Defense Center in Bonn to supply the body with the information needed to act.
Author: Matthias von Hein, Joanna Impey/mz (dpa, afp)
Editor: Susan Houlton