Australia hit by ‘sophisticated’ state-sponsored cyber attack

19 June 2020, 05:58 | Updated: 19 June 2020, 09:06

By Asher McShane

Australia has been targeted in a "sophisticated state-based" cyber attack, the country's prime minister has said.

Scott Morrison did not name the country responsible, and he said he made the threat public to "raise awareness."

He said: "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."

Scott Morrison said Australia was being targeted by state sponsored hackers
Scott Morrison said Australia was being targeted by state sponsored hackers. Picture: PA

Although the threat was constant, the frequency of attacks had increased "over many months," he said.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said he was 95 per cent sure the attacker is China. 

"The Russians could do it. The North Koreans could do it, but neither of them have an interest on the scale of this. They have no interest in state and territory government or universities," he told The Australian.

Mr Morrison added: "This is the actions of a state-based actor with significant capabilities. There aren't too many state-based actors who have those capabilities."

Mr Morrison would not comment on the inevitable speculation that the cyber attacks were part of Australia's increasingly hostile relationship with China.

China in recent weeks banned beef exports from Australia's largest abattoirs, ended trade in Australian barley with a tariff wall and warned its citizens against visiting the country.

The measures are widely interpreted as punishment for Australia's advocacy of an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne this week accused China of using the anxiety around the pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online, prompting China to accuse Australia of disinformation.

Mr Morrison said Australia "doesn't engage lightly in public attribution" and would not name the country behind the current cyber campaign.

"I can't control what speculation others might engage in on this issue," he added.

Mr Morrison said he had discussed the growing cyber security threat with Australia's allies and had spoken overnight to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the subject.

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