Australia

Australia joins global condemnation of 'serious' China cyber hacking

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The Australian government has joined the United States in condemning China for alleged cyber attacks on companies and government agencies in 12 countries around the world.

The Australian government has demanded China close down a hacking group engaged in a global plot to steal intellectual property from western countries.

The United States charged two Chinese nationals who are alleged to belong to a group of hackers operating China - known in global intelligence circles as Advanced Persistent Threat 10 or APT10.

The group, acting on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, is accused of targeting companies and government agencies, in at least a dozen countries, in an effort to access intellectual property and other sensitive business information.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said in a joint statement, APT10's "sustained cyber intrusions" are significant and a "serious concern".

They also called on China to honour a pledge it made at the G20 Leaders meeting in 2015, and at a subsequent bilateral meeting in 2017, to refrain from hacking and cyber theft.

"Australia calls on all countries - including China - to uphold commitments to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining a competitive advantage," the statement read. 

The head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre Alastair MacGibbon said the plot to steal commercial secrets is unprecedented.

"This needs to be seen as a catalytic event to drive change in our cyber security posture," he said.

There were 47,000 reported cyber attacks last year, and this number is set to rise.
There were 47,000 reported cyber attacks last year, and this number is set to rise.
Supplied

"We need to protect not just against this particular threat actor in the activity we've exposed, but against a whole range of threat actors and activities as yet unknown."

Mr MacGibbon confirmed there are Australian victims of APT10, but declined to name them.

He also has not ruled out Australian government departments being affected.

Mr MacGibbon said the recent developments highlight the need for companies and organisations to be smarter with their cyber security.

"If we have management and leadership inside organisations driving for change, and if we as the government work with the providers and with the broader public to give them what information they need, then collectively we can dramatically improve the security of Australian connected systems," he said.

"That's good for the economy and that's good for our society."

'We know what China's doing'

Australia's comments follow the US Justice Department charging two Chinese nationals for their involvement with APT10.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the cyber threats from China, which date back to 2006, have never been more severe or more pervasive.

"No country poses a broader more severe long term threat to our nation's economy and cyber infrastructure than China," he said.

"China's goal simply put is to replace the US as the world's leading superpower and they're using illegal methods to get there."

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The US said the hackers focused on large managed service providers - or companies that manage IT services and infrastructure for medium-to-large businesses and organisations.

US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said "China will find it difficult to pretend that it is not responsible for these actions".

"America and its many allies know what China's doing," he said.

"We know why they're doing it and in some cases we even know exactly who is sitting at the keyboard perpetrating these crimes in association with the Chinese government."

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