China has fired back over accusations they were the ‘sophisticated state-based actor’ who launched a massive cyber-attack on the Australian government and businesses.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said the attack was ’95 per cent or more’ likely to have been launched from China.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed such allegations, and took particular aim at ASPI.
‘We’ve pointed out many times, this institute has long been receiving funding from US arms companies, and the attacks coming from the institute are completely baseless,’ Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
‘It has been hyping up, or creating, all kinds of anti-China topics.
‘The attacks and the blame coming from this institute against China is totally baseless and nonsense.’
The decision by the Australian government to raise concerns over cyber security comes at a time of growing friction with China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping drives in a Hong Qi car after inspecting the troops during a parade to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China
The the two countries have come head-to-head about the origin of the coronavirus, trade and most recently, the death sentence handed to an Australian drug smuggler.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday confirmed Australia has been the target of increased cyber attacks by a foreign entity.
‘We know it is a sophisticated, state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting, and the tradecraft used,’ Mr Morrison said.
He declined to put a name on which country is carrying out the attacks, nor would Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who was briefed by Australia’s security agencies.
But Mr Jennings said it was likely to be China due to the scale and intensity of the attack.
‘A few others have the capacity but they don’t have the scale to do it as broadly as this,’ Mr Jennings said.
Sean Duca, a cyber security expert from Palo Alto Networks, said the attacks bore similarities to the February 2019 assault on the Parliament House system, also blamed on China.
‘We found in analysing the code itself … the attackers had reused a lot of the code that had been used by other people in the past,’ Mr Duca said.
‘And one particular tool that was used was a tool that was actually used in the February 2019 attack against Parliament House.’
He said it was important every Australian organisation step up their security, patching systems and using multifactor authentication and biometrics.
‘Australia is definitely a leading country around driving a digital economy, but there’s attackers out there looking to try and disrupt our economy, and also disrupt our livelihoods,’ he said.
‘We need to think about better, smarter ways of trying to do this.’
The cyber attacks which involved various ‘spearphishing’ techniques such as sending links to credential harvesting websites, emails with links to malicious files, and emails with other ‘click-through events’
While critical infrastructure and information intelligence remains Australia’s most heavily protected cyber assets, experts warn that trust in democratic institutions is our most vulnerable target.
They say authoritarian powers like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran are trying to overwhelm the west with paranoia and distrust in governments, media, science and independent judiciary.
‘While the nominal targets of this attack are unidentified, the deeper target is the institutional trust that enables Australia’s open democratic system to function,’ Flinders University national security analyst Dr Zac Rogers told news.com.
‘The threat of an enemy at the gates can pale in comparison to the damage done by the monster under the bed.
‘The irony of the age of information would be that it could herald the end of influence.’
China has denied any involvement in the cyber-attack and even said they are the victim.
‘China is a staunch upholder of cyberspace security and we have been the biggest victim of cyber attacks,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
‘We have been firmly opposing and combating all forms of cyber attacks. Our position is clear and consistent.’
China and Australia have shared an increasingly frosty relationship in recent months.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced Australia is under increasing cyber attack from a ‘sophisticated state-based cyber actor’
Beijing and Canberra have been at loggerheads since Mr Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus and the role of the Communist Party in covering up the initial outbreak.
China retaliated by slapping an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley and telling students and tourists not to travel Down Under in an apparent attempt to damage the Australian economy.
Intelligence officials attributed a major cyber attack on the Australian parliament last year to China – and critics say intensifying attacks could be part of a Chinese campaign to intimidate or bully Australia as tensions over trade foment.
This time, all levels of the Australian Government are believed to have been targeted in the cyber attacks which involved various ‘spearphishing’ techniques such as sending links to credential harvesting websites, emails with links to malicious files, and emails with other ‘click-through events’, The Australian Cyber Security Centre said.
The education sector has been targeted by the cyber attacks which have been happening for months (stock image)
The New South Wales State Government was among the major targets of the cyber raids, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Australian Cyber Security Centre said ‘advanced persistent threat actors’ or APTs even went after Australian COVID-19 data.
‘APT groups may be seeking information and intellectual property relating to vaccine development, treatments, research and responses to the outbreak as this information is now of higher value and priority globally,’ the centre said.
‘Accordingly, Australia’s health or research sectors could be at greater threat of being targeted, and potentially compromised, by malicious APT groups.’
Chinese troops marching during a military parade in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China