The cyber attack on Australia's major political parties reportedly used techniques never seen before

Patrick Lux/ Getty Images.

  • The cyber attack on Australia’s parliament which also affected the nation’s major political parties reportedly used unique methods — another sign that it came from a nation-state.
  • It underlines the seriousness and sophistication of the attack, which is widely believed to have been directed by China but could also have originated from another country.
  • The attack comes after a surge in malicious cyber attacks on Australian businesses.

The cyber attack on Australia’s political infrastructure from a suspected state actor reportedly used techniques not previously seen by intelligence agencies, underlining the sophistication of the attackers and the increasing information security risks for a wide range of organisations.

The infiltration — which targeted the Australian federal parliament as well as the networks of the Liberal, National, and Labor parties — was a “‘first-seen’ in terms of the tools and trade craft used”, according to an intelligence source quoted in a report in The Australian.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament yesterday he had “instructed the Australian Cyber Security Centre to be ready to provide any political party or electoral body in Australia with immediate support, including making their technical experts available.

“They have already briefed the Electoral Commissions and those responsible for cyber security for all states and territories. They have also worked with global anti-virus companies to ensure Australia‚Äôs friends and allies have the capacity to detect this malicious activity.”

Amid concerns about rising Chinese influence in Australia across politics and business which occasionally boil over into diplomatic tensions, Beijing is widely suspected of being behind the attack.

There was no evidence of electoral interference at this stage, Morrison said.

The development follows a huge surge in cyber attacks on Australian businesses last year. Attacks on Australian businesses saw a 78% increase in Australia in 2018, according to a report from global IT security firm Malwarebytes. The company detected 358,321 attacks on Australian businesses on its network last year, making Australia the top target of cyber attacks in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

While the cryptocurrency enthusiasm of 2018 drove hackers to widespread attempts at installing crypto mining software on target networks last year, there was also a huge surge in so-called attacks from backdoor malware, which are intended to give hackers direct access to companies’ platforms and databases.

Malwarebytes

The Asia-Pacific region saw an increase of over 5300% in backdoor attacks last year, according to the Malwarebytes analysis.

Malwarebytes’ report does not break down the sources of the attacks so the level of state actor involvement in these attacks cannot be ascertained.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner — which requires businesses to disclose privacy breaches — has also been recording an increase in businesses being compromised by malicious cyber attacks.

In the December quarter, of 262 data breaches notified, 64% were attributed to malicious or criminal attacks, compared to 57% the previous quarter, OAIC data says.

The top industries targeted in attacks were private health service providers (54 breaches notified) and finance (40 breaches notified).

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