Politics: China’s top security agency is accused of directing a wave of cyberattacks against Australia

  • Australian companies have been the target of a fresh wave of China-originated cyberattacks this year as part of a “constant, significant effort” to plunder corporate assets and intellectual property, according to a report released Tuesday.
  • Beijing has rejected the claims that China’s top security agency planned and directed a surge in cyber attacks on Australian companies.
  • The report alleges the coordinated attacks also broke a personal agreement struck between China’s Premier Li Keqiang and the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that both countries would put a stop to the theft of each other’s commercial secrets.
  • A foreign ministry spokesperson provided China’s stock responses to accusations of hacking: “groundless, speculative, unprofessional and irresponsible.”

SYDNEY, Australia — China’s foreign ministry has recorded its usual annoyance following an investigation into Chinese corporate hacking in Australia that comes only days after US Vice President Mike Pence pointed the finger at Beijing for its overwhelming “intellectual property theft”.

China’s peak security agency has been overseeing a surge in cyberattacks on Australian companies over the past year, in an operation dubbed “Operation Cloud Hopper,” and at the behest of China’s Ministry of State Security according to a report by Fairfax Media and broadcaster Channel Nine.

The Cloud Hopper cyber-espionage campaign was first uncovered by security researchers at PwC, BAE Systems, and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.

Those researchers concluded in 2017 that the campaign was the work of the China-based, People’s Liberation Army connected APT10 hacking group.

In 2016, US security firm Mandiant released the report “APT1 Exposing One of China’s Espionage Units,” describing the term as Advanced Persistent Threat 1, “a single organization of operators that has conducted a cyber-espionage campaign against a broad range of victims since at least 2006.”

On Tuesday, unnamed senior Australian officials are cited in the Fairfax report as saying this recent surge of attacks targeting sectors across the Australian economy from “industry to corporate and military” were confirmed by the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

Five Eyes is the name given to an intelligence-sharing network made up of the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as part of the same campaign.

The senior Australian government source told Fairfax the activity was “a constant, significant effort to steal our intellectual property,” and that China’s Ministry of State Security was responsible for Operation Cloud Hopper.

Australian universities and network providers have attracted criticism for lax security measures.

The massive uptick in activity was also backed up by the vice president of the US cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, Mike Sentonas.

Following a deal struck between the Chinese premier and Australian prime minister earlier in 2017, Sentonas said that from the beginning of this year, he had “noticed a significant increase in attacks.”

“The activity is mainly from China and it’s targeting all sectors,” he told Fairfax.

“There’s no doubt the gloves are off.”

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