‘Sophisticated’ Attempt to Hack Australia’s Parliamentary Network Could Be Foreign Agents

February 8, 2019Australiashare
‘Sophisticated’ Attempt to Hack Australia’s Parliamentary Network Could Be Foreign Agents
Australia's Parliament House in Canberra. (JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Security industry experts say China could be behind a breach of the federal parliamentary computer network which has forced MPs and staff to change passwords.

Chinese hackers could be behind a breach of the federal parliamentary computing network which is being investigated by Australia’s top cybersecurity agency.

There is no evidence that any data has been accessed, but the investigation remains ongoing, Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan said.

MPs and staff have had to change their passwords overnight on security advice.

“We have no evidence that this is an attempt to influence the outcome of parliamentary processes or to disrupt or influence electoral or political processes,” they said in a joint statement on Friday.

It is understood the Australian Signals Directorate is assisting and investigating, alongside the Department of Parliamentary Services.

Australian Cyber Security Centre head Alastair MacGibbon declined to speculate on whether it was a foreign source, but admitted the breach was sophisticated.

“We of course along with our allied agencies would be very keen to understand who it is that got into the system and why,” he said.

Mr MacGibbon said there was no evidence to date that anything was taken.

“My primary concern is making sure we get that offender out and we keep the offender out,” he said.

In March 2011, it was reported China was suspected of accessing the email system used by federal MPs, advisers, electorate staff and parliamentary employees.

Security industry sources told AAP it was possible China could be the source of the latest breach.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Fergus Hanson said it appears a “nation state” is behind the incident.

“There would be lots of juicy correspondence between staffers about who is doing what and dirt files on different politicians,” Mr Hanson said.

“There may be whole email stashes that could damage one party or another party.”

Australia’s key intelligence agency ASIO has previously warned it expects a rise in the “sophistication and complexity” of cyber attacks by countries pursuing cyber espionage programs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who held a cabinet national security meeting in Sydney on Friday, has been briefed on the matter. However, he could not comment on the source of the attack.

“I should stress that there is no suggestion that government departments or agencies have been the target of any such incursion,” Mr Morrison told reporters.

“I don’t propose to go into any sort of detailed commentary on the source or nature of this.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the breach – which he was confident was being handled properly – is a “wake up call”.

“Parliament at least has resources to protect if people try and hack into our systems,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“We give a lot of our data to the big international and multinational technology companies and online platforms. It’s very important that we do more to protect our data.”

The government’s information security manual was updated this month with guidance on how to harden security on Microsoft Office, web browsers and PDF viewers which could be targeted by hackers.

The cyber breach comes after an attempt to hack into the emails and phone contact lists of British MPs earlier this week.

By Rebecca Gredley and Paul Osborne

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