Australia targeted by 'sophisticated' cyber attack – by 'state-based' actor

Australia is currently the target of a “sophisticated” cyber attack – and an unnamed foreign government is behind it.

Scott Morrison, the country’s prime minister, says the attacks have targeted all levels of the government – as well as political organisations, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.

“We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting,” he said at a news conference.

Image: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stopped short of naming the country responsible

Mr Morrison has stopped short of naming the country responsible for this “malicious” activity, but warned: “There are not a large number of state-based actors that can engage in this type of activity.”

He also stressed there is no evidence of a “large-scale” breach affecting people’s personal information.

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The prime minister said he is making the threat public to raise awareness – and said the frequency of attacks has increased “over many months”.

Businesses and organisations in Australia are being urged to ensure any web or email servers are fully updated with the latest software and the use of multi-factor authentication.

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Last month, the government’s cyber agency, Australian Cyber Security Center, warned that “malicious cyber adversaries” were taking advantage of key staff at critical infrastructure working from home during the pandemic.

“It is reprehensible that cybercriminals would seek to disrupt or conduct ransomware attacks against our essential services during a major health crisis,” agency head Abigail Bradshaw said.

The agency also reported “malicious cyber actors” were trying to “damage or impair” hospitals and emergency response organisations outside Australia.

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Mr Morrison confirmed that he has spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the issue.

Last March, Reuters reported that Australian officials had concluded China was responsible for a hacking attack on parliament in February 2019 – but Beijing denied it was responsible.

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Australia recently strained ties with China by pushing for an international inquiry into the source and spread of coronavirus.

In recent weeks, China has reacted by banning beef exports from Australia’s largest abattoirs, and warning its citizens against visiting the country.

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

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