Australia’s Parliament hacked?

The Australian Parliament said that hackers had tried to break into its computer network, which includes lawmakers’ email archives, but there were no visible indications that data had been stolen.

Background

Australia is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area.

On 1 January 1901, six colonies united, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy comprising six states and ten territories.

Australia is a highly developed country, with the world's 13th-largest economy. It has a high-income economy, with the world's tenth-highest per capita income. Australia has the world's 9th largest immigrant population with immigrants accounting for 26% of the population. Having the third-highest human development index and the eighth-highest ranked democracy globally, the country ranks highly in quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, civil liberties and political rights.

In 2018, the Jim Morrison-led government passed the controversial The Assistance and Access Bill, 2018 which effectively weakens the data security of all Australians.

Analysis

Australian news outlets reported that security agencies were investigating the possibility that a foreign government was behind the attack.

“Following a security incident on the parliamentary computing network, a number of measures have been implemented to protect the network and its users,” Parliament’s presiding officers, Tony Smith and Scott Ryan, said in a joint statement. “All users have been required to change their passwords. This has occurred overnight and this morning.”

The nature of the attack “suggests a state actor because it’s hard to make money from breaching a parliamentary system,” said Fergus Hanson, head of the International Cyber Policy Center at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

China’s attempts to influence Australian politics have become a major issue here, and Mr. Hanson said that for Australia, “obviously China is the No. 1 threat-actor when it comes to cyberattacks.” But he added that Iranian, North Korean and Russian hackers would also be possible suspects in the latest attack.

It comes as Australia is preparing for national elections that are likely to be held in May. Given this fact, Mr. Hanson said, the attack on a system that houses lawmakers’ official email accounts was concerning, in light of well-known recent attempts to influence elections through cyberattacks — most notoriously, the Russian interference in the American presidential election in 2016, which involved the theft of emails.

Last year, security experts said that tools commonly used by Chinese hackers had been deployed in attacks on the Defense Department and the Australian National University. In 2013, the theft of classified blueprints for the Australian Security Intelligence Organization’s new headquarters was also reported to have been linked to China.

Counterpoint

Some analysts were sceptical that China would be officially blamed for the attack, even if evidence of its involvement did not emerge. Australia joined the United States last December in condemning a Chinese state-backed hacking group for trying to steal intellectual property. But the government has not publicly held China responsible for other cyberattacks that national security experts said seemed to bear its fingerprints.

Assessment

Our assessment is that a cyberattack on the parliament is a serious action against a country. We believe that China cannot be solely held responsible for the attack. We feel that this could occur from within the country too, as there are many citizens upset over the controversial bill that dilutes data privacy.  Australia may be inclined to suspect China based on the recent withdrawal from the contract with Huawei to develop 5G networks in the country.