Australia targeted by ‘sophisticated state-based cyber actor’, says PM Scott Morrison

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Australia is under increasing cyberattack from a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor,” the Australian Prime Minister said Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not name the state, and he said he made the growing threat public to raise awareness.

“Australian organizations are currently being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor,” Mr. Morrison told reporters.

“This activity is targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure,” he added.

Although the threat was constant, the frequency of attacks had increased “over many months.”

“This is the actions of a state-based actor with significant capabilities. There aren’t too many state-based actors who have those capabilities,” Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Morrison said he particularly wanted organisations involved in health, critical infrastructure and essential services to bolster technical defenses to thwart such malicious attacks.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the government’s cyber agency, Australian Cyber Security Center, and the Home Affairs Department had published on Friday a technical advisory on how organizations can detect and mitigate cyber threats.

Mr. Morrison would not comment on the inevitable speculation that the cyberattacks were part of Australia’s increasingly hostile rift with China.

China in recent weeks banned beef exports from Australia’s largest abattoirs, ended trade in Australian barley with a tariff wall and warned its citizens against visiting Australia.

The measures are widely interpreted as punishment for Australia’s advocacy of an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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

Mr. Morrison said “Australia doesn’t engage lightly in public attribution” and would not name the country behind the current cyber campaign.

“I can’t control what speculation others might engage in on this issue,” he said.

Morrison said he had discussed the growing cyber security threat with Australia’s allies and had spoken overnight to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the subject.

Australian investigations to date had not uncovered any “large-scale personal data breaches,” Mr. Morrison said.

Australian cyber security authorities had “thwarted many” attacks,” he said.

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