Australia has been hit by a series of ongoing, sophisticated cyber attacks targeting “all levels of government”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.
The government, the industrial sector, political groups, schools, healthcare organisations and essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure have all come under attack in the past few months.
The nature of the attacks – targeting public-facing infrastructure and essential services – suggests that whoever is responsible is trying to disrupt systems or steal government data.
Indeed, Morrison confirmed that the attacker was “a state-based actor, with very significant capabilities”, although he didn’t speculate on which one.
Who is responsible?
The list of countries with the capability to launch such an attack is probably limited to China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – but the first is the only one with a clear motive, after Australia accused China of spreading disinformation regarding COVID-19.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra responded by saying that “some Australian media have been fraught with rumours, lies and malicious slanders against China”, and that Australian politicians had also been keen to play up this “false information”.
Chinese government spokesman Zhao Lijian added that he “would like to again advise Australia to listen attentively to the voices of the victims, face its problems and self-reflect.
“To be frank, we do not believe it is in Australia’s long-term interest to manipulate the epidemic for personal gain, disregard facts and undermine international cooperation.”
If the attacks are a retaliation for comments regarding COVID-19, it would be the latest in a string of state-sponsored cyber attacks during the pandemic.
State actors worldwide were quick to identify the cyber security implications of COVID-19, and have been trying to access government systems to learn about their medical research, response protocols and other valuable data.
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