Responding to the growth in online threats, particularly from North Korea and a recent malware attack that affected banks and broadcasters, South Korea’s ministry of defence is to establish a new department dedicated to cyber security.

The Yonhap News Agency reports that a ‘cyber policy department’ will be established to oversee all government policy and strategies that defend against Internet and network-based threats.

The country already has some mechanisms in place, its two-year old ‘Cyber Command’ unit handles online security, working with the country’s military and intelligence teams, but the new creation is expected to act like a ‘control tower’ to integrate South Korea’s efforts.

The ministry will launch the new department in the first half of 2013. Its immediate objectives will include drawing together defensive strategies and “recruiting more forces to carry out cyber space operations”, according to officials quoted by the Yonhap News report.

Three banks and a number of prominent broadcasters suffered significant network outages on March 20 as a cyber attack — later identified as malware — shut down computer networks. While the broadcasters’ schedules continued unaffected, mobile operator LG Uplus suffered an outage and the internal system at Shinhan Bank went down, taking ATMs and other machines out of service.

An investigation initially pin-pointed the threat as coming from China, however, it was later said that the malware attack could have come from other locations. The initial finger was pointed at North Korea and, amidst heightened tensions between the two nations, South Korea’s move is another effort to guard against attacks from its neighbor.

Earlier last month, North Korea accused the US, South Korea and other allies of orchestrating attacks on its Internet system. Though the country does not permit widespread Internet access among its population, it provides a country-wide intranet and does have restricted access to the World Wide Web.

South Korea has been practicing cyber warfare drills with the US and — as this AFP article explains in some detail — it has been training a new wave of recruits to take on North Korea and its estimated 3,000 man-strong cyber unit.

According to the AFP, Korea’s Internet Security Agency recorded 40,000 cases of cyber attacks during 2012 —  that’s up from 24,000 in 2008.

Related: Anonymous hackers claim to have stolen 15,000 passwords from North Korea’s Uriminzokkiri site

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