Australia under ‘malicious’ cyberattacks from state actor

Prime Minister Scott Morrison put the blame on a sophisticated state-based cyber actor. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 June 2020

Australia under ‘malicious’ cyberattacks from state actor

SYDNEY: Australia’s prime minister said Friday his country was under a broad cyberattack from a “state-based actor” targeting government, public services and businesses, with suspicions falling on China.
Warning Australians of “specific risks” and an increased frequency of attacks, Scott Morrison told a hastily organized press conference that a range of sensitive institutions had been hit.
“This activity is targeting Australian organizations 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 said.
He levelled blame at a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor,” but declined to name the culprit, saying only that it could only come from one of a handful of states.
China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, the United States and a number of European countries are known to have developed cyberwarfare capabilities.
Suspicions immediately fell on Beijing, which has recently slapped trade sanctions on Australian products amid an escalating row over Chinese influence.
Public broadcaster ABC cited “senior sources” confirming that China was believed to be behind the attacks.
Australia enraged China by calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and by accusing China of fueling a virus “infodemic” and engaging in economic “coercion.”
China — increasingly unwilling to tolerate criticism of its more aggressive foreign policies — has warned its students and tourists against going to Australia, threatened more sanctions and sentenced an Australian citizen to death for drug trafficking.
Beijing and Canberra have also sparred over access to natural resources, maritime claims and the use of Chinese state-backed technology companies.
Last year Australia’s parliament and political parties were targeted by state-backed actors, with China seen as the likely culprit.
Beijing has previously described such comments as “irresponsible” speculation and an attempt to “smear” the country.
Experts say attribution is often difficult, time-consuming and, if made public, could escalate tensions further.
Canberra’s ex-spymaster last year accused Beijing of wanting to “take over” Australia’s political system with an “insidious” and systematic campaign of espionage and influence-peddling.
Duncan Lewis, who resigned in September after five years as head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), explicitly pointed the finger at China, in unusually blunt comments from such a senior former official.
“Espionage and foreign interference is insidious,” Lewis told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.
Morrison said that he had notified the leader of the opposition and state leaders of the cyberattacks, which he described as “malicious.”
He did not elaborate on what type of attacks had taken place, but said no personal data had been compromised and many of the attacks were unsuccessful.
“They are not new risks, but they are specific risks,” he said, urging Australian firms and institutions to protect themselves.
“We encourage organizations, particularly those in the health, critical infrastructure and essential services to take expert advice and to implement technical defenses,” he said.
That warning is likely to raise alarm bells as the country’s medical facilities — already on crisis footing because of the coronavirus pandemic — could come under further strain.
Australia is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network — along with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States — which give the country access to advanced capabilities, but also makes it a rich target for adversaries.


COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

Updated 11 August 2020

COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

  • French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday
  • New clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices

PARIS: The renewed spread of coronavirus in France could become harder to control without a collective effort to stop a rise in the infection rate, its prime minister said on Tuesday.
The public was becoming careless, Jean Castex warned, after official data recorded nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Monday. The epidemic has now killed more than 30,300 people in France.
French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday, almost twice Monday’s tally.
The Health Ministry website said there were 15 new deaths in hospital due the disease, compared to an increase of 16 over a three-day period between Monday and Saturday,
“If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital intensive care ward in southern France.
France’s 7-day moving average of new infections climbed to 1,640 on Monday from 1,056 on July 31. The 7-day measure reached a post lockdown low of 272 on May 27, a little over 2 weeks after the government eased one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
But as in most neighboring European countries, new clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices and France is desperate to avoid another full-scale lockdown.
Britain has said it will not hesitate putting more countries on its quarantine list, including France, where hordes of Britons spend their summer vacations.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron held a video conference with top ministers from his Riviera summer retreat.
During the meeting, it was decided France would draw up new restrictions for the 20 largest cities to curb the rising infection rate and that a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people would be extended until Oct. 31.
Some cities have already taken action. Paris on Monday joined Toulouse, Lille, Biarritz and others in imposing a mandatory face mask order in crowded outdoor zones. They are already compulsory nationwide in shops and banks.
The prime minister said testing was “more than satisfactory,” with more than 600,000 tests being conducted weekly, but said more could still be done to target those with symptoms, the prime minister said.
Talking of the risk of another lockdown, Castex said: “no one wants to live through that again.”