The German government is to create a computer emergency response centre to deal with the increasing threat of computer viruses.

The centre will be just part of a national IT security plan that was outlined yesterday in Berlin by interior minister Otto Schily. It comes at a time where many other industrialised nations are struggling to come to grips with attacks on IT systems in both the public and private sectors.

The number of new viruses and worms in the second half of 2004 more than quadrupled from the same period the year before to 7,300 worldwide, according to Schily. The damage from phishing attacks, which aim to steal passwords or credit card numbers, is estimated at around 2.5 billion euros (£1.7 billion) globally, he said.

The German government's "National Plan to Protect IT Infrastructures" is the first in Europe and comprises three main areas: early prevention, swift response and security standards. The Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) will play a key role. It will be responsible for developing and implementing new security standards in the public sector, and publishing guidelines for the private sector.

More than two thirds of Germany's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by companies in the private sector, according to the minister, but their security commitment is worrying, he said. Some wait until they have an acute problem before taking steps to improve their IT security, he said.

The German IT security plan is available in German on the ministry's website [pdf].