Massive cyber-attack against Australian government, infrastructure, service providers . . .
Last Friday, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the country was the target of an ongoing and sophisticated series of cyber-attacks against “all levels of government, industry, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.” While Morrison stated the frequency of attacks had been increasing “over many months,” some commentators expressed doubt about the severity of attacks as there was no single incident that triggered the Prime Minister’s announcement. The extent of the breaches is unknown, but in light of their increasing number, the Prime Minister may have decided that the time had come to elevate the issue.
Evidence points to state actor but PM refuses to identify China by name . . .
While the Prime Minister indicated that Australian authorities “know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor” he did not identify in which country the attacks originated. Experts pointed to the likely culprit being China, although Morrison declined to identify China by name. When pressed by journalists on the China connection, he stated, “the Australian government is not making any public attribution about these matters . . . [although] what I can confirm with confidence based on the technical advice that we’ve received is that this is the action of a state-based actor with significant capabilities, and there aren’t too many state-based actors that have those capabilities.”
The latest in an escalating Sino-Australia standoff . . .
It is an understatement to say the China-Australia relationship is experiencing a rocky patch. Bilateral tensions have been increasing since late 2018 when the Australian government decided to ban Chinese state-owned tech giant Huawei from its 5G network build-out over security concerns. Subsequent Chinese actions have included banning the import of certain agricultural products and warning citizens against travelling Down Under after Australia called for an independent inquiry into China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week in a major speech, Australia’s Foreign Minister laid out her country’s assertive internationalism, particularly with reference to differences with Beijing, and its intent to deepen collaboration with like-minded countries, including Canada. Cybersecurity is undoubtedly an area in which both governments would want to deepen collaboration. For more on recent Asia Watch analysis on China-Australia tensions, please click here, here, and here.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: What we know about the ‘sophisticated, state-based’ cyber-attack on Australia
- The Guardian: PM Morrison won’t say if China is the ‘state-based actor’ behind cyber-attack on Australia – video
- News.com.au: China chief suspect behind cyber-attack in Australia