China Accused of ‘Massive’ Cyberattack on Australian Government

SYDNEY (Reuters) -

A major cyber-attack against Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology that may have compromised potentially sensitive national security information is being blamed on China, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on Wednesday.

The Bureau of Meteorology owns one of Australia’s largest supercomputers and the attack, which the ABC said occurred in recent days, may have enabled those responsible to access the Department of Defense through a linked network.

The ABC, citing several unidentified sources with knowledge of the “massive” breach, placed the blame on China, which has been accused of hacking sensitive Australian government computer systems in the past.

The Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement that it does not comment on security matters, but that it is working closely with security agencies and that its computer systems are currently fully operational.

The Australian Federal Police declined to comment on the matter. The Department of Defense said in a statement that it was barred by policy from commenting on specific cyber-security incidents.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the accusation, stating that their government opposed cyber-attacks and all parties concerned should strengthen dialogue to solve the problem “in the spirit of mutual respect.”

“Groundless accusations and speculation are not constructive,” Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the press during a routine briefing.

China has long been accused of using its considerable computing resources to conduct acts of cyber espionage and to infiltrate online businesses for the sake of gaining a competitive advantage. In June, U.S. officials blamed Chinese hackers for compromising the records of up to four million current and former government employees. China called the U.S. comments irresponsible, while President Barack Obama vowed that the United States would aggressively bolster its cyber-defences.

China is Australia’s top trading partner, with two-way trade of about A$150 billion ($110 billion) in 2013, and they signed a landmark free trade agreement in 2014 that is likely to further boost commercial ties. Australia needs China’s help to transition from its outdated role as an exporter of minerals such as coal and iron ore, to its desired, lucrative role of food and agricultural exporter to a growing Asian middle class. Yet Chinese firms have been locked out of sensitive business deals in the past over security concerns, most prominently the 2013 decision to bar Huawei Telecommunications Equipment Company from bidding on Australia’s National Broadband Network; a deal worth tens of billions of dollars.