Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has ordered an investigation after his office was reportedly targeted in a cyber attack linked to the Chinese military.
The New York Times reports that in January a member of the Premier’s staff received an email with a Word document attached seemingly from a known contact at Indonesia’s embassy in Australia.
The attachment contained an invisible cyber attack tool with “alarming new capabilities” which hackers could use to remotely take over a computer and copy, delete or create files, while also carrying out extensive searches of the device’s data.
It was only detected because the hacker sent the email to the wrong address.
An investigation by Israeli cyber security company Check Point Software Technologies has identified the “Aria-body” tool as a weapon used by a group of hackers, called Naikon, that has previously been traced to the Chinese military.
The Premier on Friday said the matter had been referred to the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
“I was just shown it this morning, before this meeting. I don’t know anything more about it than an article or a line in a story in The New York Times,” he told reporters.
“As to who does these things or what happens or whether its even true, we’ll try to get to the bottom of that. Obviously cyber security is important.”
The New York Times report said the hacker was able to take over the computer used by an Indonesian diplomat in Canberra, complete a document the diplomat was working on, then send it to the McGowan government staffer.
But the email bounced back because it was initially sent to the wrong address, which “aroused suspicion that something in the original message was fishy”.
The report said the staffer worked on health and ecological issues.
Opposition spokesman Zak Kirkup said the Premier should reveal what measures had been put in place to protect sensitive information.
“This information in the wrong hands could undermine or commercially disadvantage our largest employers and impact our already struggling economy,” he said.
“Potentially sensitive information could also be used as leverage against the Premier, his staff and the state of Western Australia as a whole.”