Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced the government was going to spend more than AU$8 million on the Computer Network Vulnerability Assessment (CNVA) program, which will identify and plug any security vulnerabilities in the "computer networks and systems that support the provision of essential services to Australians".
According to Ruddock, industries that provide the critical infrastructure for Australia have become reliant upon computer networks that are increasingly vulnerable to attack.
"While the benefits have been enormous, this reliance on high-speed connections between computer systems and the Internet is not without its risks. Computer systems can be attacked and disabled in many ways by deliberate criminal acts such as hacking and cyber terrorism or by the accidental or deliberate distribution of a computer virus," said Ruddock.
According to a government spokesperson, the CNVA program will provide an opportunity for the government to create a panel of experts that will carry out a risk assessment on essential systems and identify any vulnerabilities.
The spokesperson said that Australia's critical infrastructure was defined as any "physical facilities, supply chains, information technologies and communication networks that if destroyed, degraded or rendered unavailable for an extended period would significantly impact on the social well being of the nation".
The government is urging individuals or companies that have the right skills and motivation to get in touch as soon as possible. The program is scheduled to kick off early in 2005.
Ruddock said that AU$50.2 million has already been allocated to the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN), which is a program designed to strengthen national security through special projects - such as the CNVA.
"Critical infrastructure protection is a high priority for the government," he added.