SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia’s prime minister revealed yesterday his country was under a broad cyberattack from a “state-based actor” targeting government, public services and businesses, with suspicions falling on China.
Warning Australians of “specific risks” and an increased tempo of attacks, Scott Morrison told a press conference that a range of sensitive institutions had been hit.
“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.
Morrison levelled blame at a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor”, but declined to name the culprit, while saying that it could only come from one of a handful of states.
China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, the United States and a number of European countries are known to have developed advanced cyberwarfare capabilities.
But suspicions immediately fell on Beijing, which has clashed repeatedly with Canberra as it looks to increase the cost of Australia speaking out against Communist Party interests. Most recently Australia enraged China by calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Canberra has also pushed back against what it describes as China’s economic “coercion”, covert influence campaigns and the use of technology companies like Huawei as a tool of intelligence gathering and geopolitical leverage.
China has warned its students and tourists against going to Australia, slapped trade sanctions on Australian goods and sentenced an Australian citizen to death for drug trafficking.
Last year Australia’s parliament, political parties and universities were targeted by state-backed cyberattacks, with China seen as the likely culprit.
Public broadcaster ABC cited “senior sources” confirming that China was believed to be behind today’s ongoing attacks as well.
Beijing has previously described such allegations as “irresponsible” speculation and an attempt to “smear” China.
Experts say attribution is often difficult, time-consuming and, if made public, could escalate tensions further.