Australia says it is a ‘sophisticated’ state-based cyberattack – Are Chinese hacking groups responsible?
The Australian businesses, trade bodies, and infrastructure firms are being continuously targeted by a sophisticated cyberattack. And it is no ordinary attack. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says that they are being coordinated by an unnamed country.
PM Morisson said on Thursday that all the Australian government websites, public and private companies, and some high-end officials were being targeted by state-funded cyber attacks from the past few months. However, Morrison denied to name the country responsible for the cyberattacks in his statement nor did he reveal how the cyberattacks were conducted but he did reiterate that no “large-scale personal data breaches” happened in the cyber incident.
Though PM Morrison declined to name any country, it can be deduced as who is behind these attacks. The PM told reporters that “there are not a large number of state-based actors that can engage in this type of activity.” The PM elaborated that the latest attacks were targeting the trade crafts bodies and critical infrastructures.
Is China sponsored hacking group behind the Australian mass cyber-attack?
It would have diplomatically fatal for the Australian Prime Minister to name the country behind the state-sponsored hacking attacks but previously, security experts have linked such attacks to countries like Russia, China, and North Korea. In May 2019, Australian Intelligence arms, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) which operates within the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) had concluded that the Australian general elections held on May 18th, 2020 were digitally intercepted by the Chinese hacking group. At that time Linda Reynolds, the defense minister, assured that none of the election infrastructures was influenced by the state-funded attack.
This time Australian intelligence has not named any country but PM Morrison is clear. “It is clear … that this has been done by a state-based actor with very, very significant capabilities,” the PM said. When asked by journalists during the presser whether Beijing was responsible, Morrison said he “couldn’t control speculation.”
It can easily be concluded that some Chinese state-sponsored hacking group is responsible for these cyber attacks on Australian infrastructure. The relations between Beijing and Canberra have worsened in 2020. Australia led the call for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic which the world blames on China. At the same time, China has imposed stiff tariffs against Australian products like beef and barley. Australia is also a part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India to take on the Chinese expansionism. Australia had also supported India’s candidature for the UNSC seat which India won yesterday by a whopping 184 votes.
Congratulations to 🇮🇳 on its election to @UN Security Council as a non-permanent member – Australia is very pleased to have supported India’s bid. 🇦🇺 has been a strong proponent of #UNSC reforms, supports India's candidacy as a permanent member of a reformed #UNSC.
— Barry O’Farrell AO (@AusHCIndia) June 18, 2020
It is least surprising if the Australian intelligence finds the hand of Chinese APT groups responsible for these latest rounds of cyberattacks later in the year.
The Chinese embassy in Australia has declined to comment on PM Morrison’s comments.