Australian Politicians Hacked By ‘Sophisticated State Actor’

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Australia flag parliament government © Neale Cousland Shutterstock

Cyber whodunnit after Prime Minister warns of ‘nation state hack’ of Australian political parties and parliament

The Australian Parliament as well as all of that country’s main political parties have suffered what is being called a “malicious intrusion” on their computer networks.

According to the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the cyber-attack which came to light two weeks ago was carried out by a “sophisticated state actor,” which is the polite way of saying that a nation state had carried out the hack.

Australia has been not been immune to hacking attacks over the years. In 2015 for example, a number of government websites as well as Australia’s largest seller of travel insurance, were hacked and the attacker stole more than 770,000 records. There was 30GB of data on the next generation joint strike fighter jet stolen in a hack in 2017.

State actor

Worse was to come in late 2017 when a misconfigured Amazon S3 bucket exposed the personal data of 48,270 people, including staff of several Australian government agencies, banks and a utility.

But now the Australian government has confirmed that a nation state carried out an attack on its Parliament and Aussia political parties.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quoted by the BBC as saying that there was “no evidence of any electoral interference”.

Australia is to hold a general election within months.

The attack had initially only involved the parliament’s servers, but soon after that it was discovered the hack was more widespread.

“During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and Nationals – have also been affected,” Morrison reportedly told the House of Representatives on Monday.

The Australian prime minister did not name which foreign state is thought to have carried out the attack, and he say would not provide additional detail on “operational matters.”

The hack is being investigated by the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

Expert take

At least one security expert is concerned that the attacks are part of a global trend.

“From the breach of Australia’s parliament and political parties to an attack on the EU’s diplomatic cables, there is a worrying global trend emerging of geopolitically fuelled cyber-attacks,” said
Andrew Tsonchev, director of technology at British cyber-AI company Darktrace Industrial.

“Nation states and cyber criminals are ramping up in sophistication to infiltrate and crawl around, what we consider to be the world’s most secure networks,” said Tsonchev. “It looks like no system, even those belonging to government, are safe from cyber-attack.”

“With Australia’s election looming and those in the US next year, we can expect a hike in disruptive attacks that deliberately attempt to meddle with the instruments of democracy,” he said. “Fortunately, this most recent breach shows no evidence of electoral interference.”

“Protecting data integrity has never been so critical and the public sector will need to leverage the strongest defences to overcome these skilled adversaries,” he added.

The Australian Parliament hack is not the only hack of a nation state parliament.

In 2015 the lower house of the German parliament suffered a damaging cyber attack on its computer network.

And last month the personal data belonging to hundreds of German politicians, celebrities and public figures was been online by an unknown hacker.

The Scottish Parliament suffered a ‘brute force’ cyber attack from ‘external sources’ in 2017, as did the British Parliament in London also in the same year.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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