Australian organisations are being targeted by a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
He said the attack was targeting all levels of government as well as political, business, education and health organisations.
“We know it is a sophisticated state-based cyber actor because of the scale and nature of the targeting and the trade craft used,” Mr Morrison said on Friday morning.
“The Australian government is aware of and alert to the threat of cyber attacks.”
Limited details of the attack have been released. But Mr Morrison said it had been identified because it was on such a large scale, and had increased in recent months.
“There are many that have been targeted but, in terms of their success, that is not as significant,” he said.
Investigations into the hacking attempt would continue, along with talks with Australia’s allies – Mr Morrison discussed the issue with British PM Boris Johnson overnight.
“Those who are engaged in this are not doing this to help us. That’s certainly not their intention,” he said.
“You could describe it as malicious – and that is why our awareness levels need to be raised.”
The Prime Minister also spoke to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Thursday night on the issue, as well as state and territory leaders.
“Cyber attacks are a real issue,” Mr Albanese told reporters in the NSW town of Thredbo.
“The evidence is … that these attacks are expected to be more often.”
According the Council on Foreign Relations, China, Russia and Iran are the top three states suspected of sponsoring cyber operations.
Asked directly if he believed China was behind the sustained attack, Mr Morrison refused to speculate, saying only that “there aren’t too many state-based actors who have those capabilities”.
“We are very confident that this is the actions of a state-based actor. We have not gone any further than that,” he said.
“I can’t control what speculation others might engage in on this issue or, frankly, any other. I have simply laid out the facts as we know them
and as we have disclosed today.”
Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated in recent months, particularly after Mr Morrison’s push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
On Friday, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds urged all Australian organisations to protect their networks from cyber attack.
“There is no doubt that malicious cyber activity is increasing in frequency, scale, in sophistication and in its impact,” she said.
“This activity harms Australia’s national security and also our economic interests.”
He said the investigations conducted so far have not revealed any large-scale personal data breaches.
Also on Friday, the Australian Cyber Security Centre and the Department of Home Affairs updated its technical advice, which outlines the steps to detect and mitigate such threats. It is available at cyber.gov.au.