Foreign government behind major cyber attack on Australian governments and business believed to be China
By Georgia Hitch
Scott Morrison says Australian organisations are being targeted by a “sophisticated, state-based actor”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australian organisations, including governments and businesses, are currently the targets of sustained attacks by a sophisticated foreign “state-based” hacker.
• A foreign government is believed to be behind the wide-ranging attack
• The Prime Minister says there have not been large-scale personal data breaches
• The Government will not say publicly which state is behind the cyber attack
While Mr Morrison said the Government would not take the formal step of publicly naming which state, senior sources have confirmed China is believed to be behind the malicious attacks.
“This activity is targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure,” he said.
“We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting and the tradecraft used.”
The Prime Minister emphasised the attacks “hadn’t just started” and were ongoing and constant threats to Australia.
Mr Morrison said, so far, it did not appear there had been any “large-scale” breaches of people’s personal information but described the attack as “malicious”.
“This is why we are raising this matter today, to raise awareness of this important issue,” he said.
“To encourage organisations, particularly those in the health, critical infrastructure and essential services to take expert advice and implement technical defences to thwart this malicious cyber activity.”
Government will not say which state behind attacks
When asked whether the country responsible had been identified, he said the Federal Government would not be making “any public attribution” about the attack.
“What I can confirm is there are not a large number of state-based actors that can engage in this type of activity,” Mr Morrison said.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China, Russia and Iran are the top three states suspected of sponsoring cyber operations.
The chief executive officer of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC), Rachael Falk, said while people may want to point fingers at particular countries, attributing blame was a “distraction”.
“It doesn’t matter where it comes from to be honest with you,” she said.
“This message, the Prime Minister was clear … do what you need to do to protect your valuable business and personal data.
“Threats come from anywhere, every day of the week.”
Ms Falk said even simple things like making sure passwords are secure and security updates on mobile phones were done as soon as they are released would all help secure personal information.
She said calling out the country responsible should be left to the Government and the Australian Signals Directorate if and when they chose to.
Rachael Falk says Australians should focus on protecting their own data.
Attacks to be expected but PM urges people to be vigilant
Today’s announcement comes after the Prime Minister issued a similar statement last year following attacks, again from a state-based actor, on the major political parties.
The Prime Minister said he raised the issue today “not to raise concerns” but to make sure the public was aware of the threat.
“That fact that these threats present is not a surprise in this world in which we now live,” Mr Morrison said.
“The actions that we are taking are the actions that we need to take and we will continue to be as vigilant as we possibly can be.”
When asked what the motivation of the hackers was, Mr Morrison said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what it “might be”.
“What is of interest to us is that it is occurring and what we are focused on is the practices that they’re employing,” he said.
“We have some of the best agencies in the world … working on this and that means that they are putting all of their efforts into thwarting these attempts.
“I can confirm that they have thwarted many, but this is a very complex area.”
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the Australian Cyber Security Centre and Department of Home Affairs had published a detailed technical advisory today, which outlined what organisations could do to “detect and mitigate” the threat.
“I remind all Australians that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility of us all,” she said.