SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian intelligence agency noted that China was responsible for a cyber attack on its national parliament and the three largest political parties before the general election in May.
FILE PHOTO: A man holds a laptop in his hand while a cybercode is being projected on it. This image was taken on May 13, 2017 Directorate General (ASD) – came to the conclusion in March that the Chinese Ministry of State Security was responsible for the attack, the five people told Reuters, who were directly informed about the results of the investigation.
The five sources could not be identified due to the sensitivity of the problem. Reuters did not review the classified report.
The report, which included contributions from the State Department, recommended that the findings be kept secret in order to avoid disrupting trade relations with Beijing, two respondents said. The Australian government has not disclosed who it believes it is behind the attack, nor has it provided details of the report.
Following Reuters' questions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office refused to comment on the attack, the findings of the report, or whether Australia had privately triggered the hack with China. The ASD also declined to comment.
China's Foreign Ministry rejected any involvement in hacking attacks and said the Internet was full of theories that were difficult to prosecute.
"When investigating and investigating the nature of online incidents, full evidence of the facts must be provided, otherwise only rumors and others are smeared and labels are randomly glued to people." We want to emphasize that China is also a victim of Internet attacks, "said a statement to Reuters.
"China hopes that Australia will be able to meet China halfway and do more to foster mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries."
China is Australia's largest trading partner seeking the purchase of Australian iron ore, Coal and agricultural goods dominated purchase of more than one third of the country's total exports and annual deployment of more than one million tourists and students.
The Australian authorities said there was a "very real danger of damaging the economy" if China were publicly charged with the attack.
Australia announced in February that hackers have violated the network of the Australian National Parliament. Morrison said at the time that the attack was "refined" and likely carried out by a foreign government. He did not name a government suspected of involvement.
When the hack was discovered, Australian legislators and their staff were instructed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to urgently change their passwords.
The ASD investigation quickly revealed that the hackers had also accessed the networks of the ruling Liberal Party, its coalition partner, the rural population, and the opposition Labor Party.
The Labor Party did not respond to a request for comment. A person close to the party claimed to have been informed of the results without providing any information.
The date of the attack, three months before the elections in Australia and following the cyber attack on the US Democratic Party before the US elections in 2016, raised concerns over electoral interference, but there was none Indication that information was gathered There was no use made of the hackers, one of the sources said.
Morrison and his liberal-national coalition have resisted the polls to narrowly win the May election, a result that Morrison calls a "miracle."
The attack on the political parties gave the perpetrators access to policy papers on issues such as tax and foreign policy and private e-mail correspondence between lawmakers, their employees and other citizens, sources said.
Independent MPs and other political parties are not affected, one source said.
Australian investigators found that the attacker used code and techniques known to have been used by China in the past.
The Australian intelligence service also found that the country's political parties were a target of Beijing's espionage without specifying other incidents.
People refused to state how the attackers violated network security and said it was unclear when the attack started or how long the hackers had access to the networks.
The attackers used sophisticated techniques to hide their access and identity without giving any indication.
The findings were also shared with at least two allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, said four individuals who were familiar with the investigation.
The United Kingdom has sent a small team of cyber experts to Canberra to help investigate the attack, three of them said.
The United States and the United Kingdom declined to comment.
Australia has made increased efforts in recent years to combat China's growing influence in Australia.
For example, Canberra banned overseas political donations in 2017 and called on lobbyists to register links to foreign governments. A year later, ASD launched the risk assessment of the new 5G technology in Australia, which led Canberra to effectively ban Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, from its emerging 5G network.
While some US officials and diplomats welcomed such steps from Australia and praised the countries' strong intelligence relations, others were disappointed by Australia's reluctance to publicly confront China, according to two US diplomatic sources.
During a visit to Sydney last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Australia's approach with a touch of disguise after Secretary of State Marise Payne declared that Canberra will make decisions on China based on "our national interest".
Pompeo said that countries can not separate trade and economic issues from national security.
"You can sell your soul for a bunch of soybeans or you can protect your people," he told reporters at a joint appearance with Payne in Sydney.
Morrison's office refused to comment that the United States was frustrated in Australia for not publicly challenging China for the attack. The US State Department did not respond immediately to requests for comments.
Colin Packham's coverage in SYDNEY; Additional coverage by Jack Stubbs and Guy Faulconbridge in London, Christopher Bing in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Edited by Lincoln Feast and John Mair.