Chinese intelligence agencies hacked into Australian parliamentary computer network in 2011 and gained access to documents and emails of the political circle for up to a year, according to a media report on Monday.
Chinese agencies may have the access to documents and emails of “the political, professional and social links across the political world, according to seven sources with knowledge of the breach,” the Australian Financial Review said.
Citing security and parliamentary sources, it said Chinese agencies obtained remote, system administrator access to the Parliament’s computer network, which “effectively gave them control of it”.
In 2011, local media had reported the suspected Chinese access to the Australian parliamentary computer network.
After reaching on the “absolutely clear conclusion” that Chinese intelligence was involved, Australian intelligence had informed their political circle and also briefed the parliamentary committee that oversees security matters.
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“It was like an open- cut mine. They had access to everything,” one source told the newspaper.
China got access to all emails, contact databases and other documents stored on Parliament’s computers.
However, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Canberra declined to comment.
One participant said they were “surprised at the extent of the compromise and did not immediately comprehend why information on personal relationships and domestic politics would have been so useful to the Chinese”.
Intelligence agencies believe China will use the information for several purposes. By seeing who communicates with whom and how frequently, China will be able to map the relationships in domestic Australian politics in detail. It will also reveal many of the personal relationships of Australia’s present and future leaders.
“It could also include sensitive discussions between MPs about party matters and reveal lobbying by companies, pressure groups and ex-politicians. It is likely include embarrassing gossip about senior figures and their media strategies,” the report said.
A cabinet minister revealed that there was shock and anger in response to the hacking.
Sources said Australian Signals Directorate, then called the Defence Signal Directorate, was aware of the breach and had assigned a ‘tiger team’ of 10 experts to check on such attacks and rebuild the network’s defences.