CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – “An advanced state-based cyber actor” targeted Australia in an escalating cyber campaign that threatens all levels of government, businesses, essential services and critical infrastructure, Prime Minister said Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not mention the state amid inevitable speculation that the cyberattacks were part of the increasingly hostile divide between Australia and China.
Morrison said he made public the growing threat to raise awareness, and he particularly wanted organizations involved in health, critical infrastructure and essential services to strengthen technical defenses.
A range of sectors have been targeted and the frequency of cyber intrusions to steal and harm has been rising for months, he said.
These are the actions of a state-based actor with significant capabilities. There aren’t too many state actors who have these options, ”said Morrison.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s think tank, said only China had the ability and interest to launch such a major cyber offensive against Australia.
“I am absolutely sure China is behind it,” said Jennings.
Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, dismissed such allegations, saying that China has “opposed and fought against all forms of cyber-attack.”
“The institute’s attacks against China are utterly groundless nonsense,” Zhao told reporters on a daily briefing on Friday.
In recent weeks, China has banned beef exports from Australia’s largest slaughterhouses, ended Australian barley trading with a tariff wall, and warned its citizens against visiting Australia. The measures have been widely interpreted as punishing Australia’s advocacy for an independent investigation into the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australian Foreign Minister accused China this week of using the pandemic fears to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online, prompting China to accuse Australia of disinformation.
Morrison said, “Australia is not lightly concerned with public attribution,” but said he had no control over speculation about who was responsible for the cyber campaign.
He gave little details about the activities and said it was difficult to understand whether the burglaries were motivated by desires to steal state secrets, intellectual property or the personal data of ordinary Australians.
So far, Australian investigations have not uncovered “widespread personal data breaches,” said Morrison, saying many of the intruders had been thwarted.
Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds said the government cyber agency, the Australian Cyber Security Center and the Home Office have issued technical advice on how organizations can detect and mitigate cyber threats.
The cyber agency warned last month that “malicious cyber attackers” abused key figures on critical infrastructure who worked from home during the pandemic.
Electricity and water networks and transport and communication networks were also threatened.
“We continue to see efforts to compromise Australia’s critical infrastructure,” said head Abigail Bradshaw.
“It is reprehensible that cyber criminals attempt to disrupt or carry out ransomware attacks on our essential services during a major health crisis,” she added.
The agency also reported that “malicious cyber actors” attempted to “damage or damage” hospitals and emergency organizations outside Australia.
Sydney-based brewing giant Lion said on Friday it continued to recover from a ransomware attack last week.
“Lion and our expert cyber team continue to investigate the ransomware attack that caused a partial IT outage last week,” said a company statement.
“It is important to emphasize that although this attack has had an impact on our business, we are still brewing beer and manufacturing our dairy and beverage brands, and have managed to ship products to many of our customers,” added it ready.
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