Only Four Suspects In Australia's High Level Attack

Suspicion is falling on Chinese spies for targeting the computer systems of Australia's three major political parties, with intelligence officials acknowledging the skilled cyber hackers were the most sophisticated to confront Australia in years. 

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed Australia's political parties suffered cyber-attacks alongside the Parliament House computer network several weeks ago by a "sophisticated state actor".

The announcement is likely to intensify speculation that China was behind the attacks, which come just three months before the federal election, though Mr Morrison said there was no evidence of election interference.

Sources are describing the level of sophistication as "unprecedented" but are unable to say yet which foreign government is behind the attack.

The attacks are understood to carry the digital fingerprints of China, though authorities are concerned that another state could be replicating the hallmarks of Chinese intelligence to deflect blame towards them.

Mr Morrison told Parliament on Monday 18th February that while investigating the parliamentary hack, cybersecurity authorities "also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals, have also been affected". Security agencies "acted decisively to confront it", Mr Morrison said.

"Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity."

Only four nations are thought to be capable of such a high-level attack: China, Russia, Israel and the United States. The theft of any party or political material has echoes of the 2016 election interference campaign against the United States by Russia when the Democratic National Committee was hacked by Russia, and damaging information was released during the presidential campaign.

Mr Morrison said the government had "put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system".
"I have instructed the Australian Cyber Security Centre to be ready to provide any political party or electoral body in Australia with immediate support, including making their technical experts available," he said.

"They have already briefed the electoral commissions and those responsible for cyber security for all states and territories. They have also worked with global anti-virus companies to ensure Australia's friends and allies have the capacity to detect this malicious activity. We have acted decisively to protect our national interests."

The attack occurred just a few months before an election in May, raising fears that any theft of MPs’ and staffers’ private correspondence could be used for the purposes of election interference.

The Department of Parliamentary Services, which runs the parliamentary computer network used by MPs and their staff, has significantly upgraded its cyber security since the system was breached in 2011, reportedly by Chinese intelligence agencies. In that breach, Chinese agents are understood to have potentially been reading MPs’ emails for months.

House Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan issued a joint statement immediately after the cyber-attack on Parliament earlier this month, saying there was no evidence any data had been accessed or taken.

SMH.com       AFR.com

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