In case there was any doubt that new waves of hackers wreaking havoc around the world are often working in China's best interest, look no further than Australia.
After the country's relationship with China recently soured, it suffered from "wave after wave" of cyberattack, according to a new Bloomberg report.
The incidents started in April 2020 when Chinese bots "swarmed" Australian government networks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into Covid's origins. The bots undertook a "massive and noisy attack" with little attempt to hide what they were doing.
“It was just a door knock, like someone walking up and ringing your doorbell,” said Robert Potter, chief executive officer of Internet 2.0, an Australian cybersecurity firm.
Following Morrison's call, Australia dealt with "months of active hacks" at places like the parliamentary email network, the Bureau of Meteorology and the departments of defense and health.
Beijing denied involvement but experts tracked much of the activity to "systems used by China-based advanced persistent threat groups", Bloomberg reported.
Potter continued: “China’s cyber reach is detectable on almost every government server. It isn’t subtle and it increases and decreases in a way that correlates to our overall relationship.”
The campaign against Australia was one of the largest seen across the world over the last year, despite ubiquitous hacks, cracks and ransomware attacks that took place globally over the last 12 to 18 months.
It prompted Australia to announce in June 2020 that a “state-based cyber actor” was “targeting Australian organizations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry,” the report says.
“There are not a large number of state-based actors that can engage in this type of activity,” Morrison said, alluding to China. China, of course, denied the allegations, stating: “Australian government and media have wrongly accused China of hacking many times before based on insufficient evidence.”
Australia’s director-general of security, Mike Burgess, didn't seem too keen on placing blame on China, stating of the espionage. "we all do it".
He said on Sky News back in March: “If I’m pointing my finger at you accusing you of espionage, I’ve got three fingers pointing back at me. Sometimes, though, it is right that governments do it because someone’s overstepped a line — it’s not just the theft of a military secret, it’s something else more offensive to our nation or damaging to our nation. And that’s the judgement governments are best placed to make.”
Meanwhile, China has accused Australia of pandering to Washington, and has quietly started to threaten Australia with the $16 billion in revenue it brought to the continent in 2019.
Ambassador Cheng Jingye said: “It is up to the people to decide. Maybe the ordinary people will say “Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?”
Hugh White, a former intelligence official who is now an emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, told Bloomberg: “China’s treatment of Australia has been distinctive if not unique. I haven’t been able to identify another country that had pressure placed on it over such a broad range of areas.”
White continued: “The Chinese have been eager to look for the opportunity to show the rest of Asia what’s at stake as they make their decisions about how they position themselves in relation to the US and China. Australia is the perfect victim for that.”
You can read Bloomberg's full report here.