Australia accuses China of cyber espionage

SYDNEY — Australia, along with the United States and Britain, are accusing a state sponsored Chinese spy agency of cyber espionage.

Authorities in Beijing have rejected the allegations as another attempt to “smear and frame China on cybersecurity.”

The Australian Signals Directorate, the national cyber intelligence agency, has accused a group called APT40 – meaning Advanced Persistent Threat – of widespread hacking on behalf of a branch of China’s Ministry of State Security.  

The agency said Tuesday that the hackers were trying to plunder information by infiltrating old and forgotten computers that were still connected to sensitive networks. Australian officials said the targets were government and business networks, and that the threat was “ongoing.”

It is the first time Australia has directly attributed malicious cyber espionage to a state-sponsored group in China.   

The Australian Signals Directorate’s report was co-authored by Canberra’s Five Eyes security alliance partners; Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Britain, along with Germany, South Korea and Japan.  

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has sought to stabilize ties with China after years of diplomatic friction but has insisted there would be areas of disagreements.

Matt Thistlethwaite, Australia’s Assistant Minister for Defense, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday that the “cyber domain” was becoming an area of conflict and espionage.  

“It has been a non-traditional area of conflict in Ukraine and we are learning a lot of lessons from that,” he said. “That is why the Albanese government is making record investments in bolstering Australia’s cyber capability both in a defense sense and in a non-defense sense as well.”

Analysts have said Australia’s cyber espionage allegations appear to be an escalation of international efforts to deter Beijing’s cyber espionage activities.

China has steadfastly refuted the claims.

On Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian told reporters in Beijing that the Chinese government was “firmly opposed to such repeated hype about so-called ‘Chinese cyber attacks’ aimed to smear and frame China on cybersecurity.”

Experts have also said the stockpiling of sensitive computer information has made Australia a target for hackers. 

In recent years, many of its major ports, its largest private health insurer and one of its main telecom companies have been targeted by cyber criminals.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand government blamed APT40 for a cyber-attack in 2021 that compromised its parliamentary computer network.  

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