The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), an office under the Australian Department of Defense, put forward this claim in a new report. It pointed out that the CCP remained a significant threat to the Land Down Under's cybersecurity in 2023, noting that China was a sponsor of most cyberattacks and malicious activities targeting critical infrastructures and businesses in Australia.
The ASD – which is "responsible for foreign signals intelligence, cyber security and offensive cyber operations" as per the Epoch Times – raised the alarm about a sharp rise in cybercrimes against Australian government entities, companies and individuals in its report.. "The global and regional strategic environment continues to deteriorate, which is reflected in the observable activities of some state actors in cyberspace," it stated.
"Some states are willing to use cyber capabilities to destabilize or disrupt economic, political and social systems. Some also target critical infrastructure or networks of strategic value with the aim of coercion or prepositioning on a network for future disruptive activity."
In May, the ASD highlighted that the Beijing-backed hacking group Volt Typhoon was able to use a technique called "living off the land" to blend in with normal system and network activities. In reality, the hackers were stealing information and conducting cyber espionage. The agency expressed concern that Volt Typhoon could apply the technique to Australian systems, given that it had breached critical infrastructure systems in the United States. (Related: More sophisticated Chinese cyberattacks target US firms, government agencies, defense contractors.)
The report also listed Russia as a threat, alongside the CCP. The ASD cited the Russian Federal Security Service's use of the "Snake" malware for long-term intelligence collection on high-priority targets worldwide.
The ASD noted in its report that the AUKUS partnership – involving Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. – and its focus on nuclear submarines and other advanced military capabilities is likely to be targeted by malicious state actors. It also warned that these actors would continue to target Australian government agencies, critical infrastructure and companies to collect information.
Despite the cyberattacks from the CCP, China continues to be Australia's largest trading partner. Even Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles admitted that Canberra's relationship with Beijing was "complex" during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"We value, clearly, a productive relationship with China – but we've never pretended that this relationship is easy, said Marles, who also serves as the Australian defense minister. "They're our largest trading partner, so it's right to be investing in that relationship. But China has been a source of security anxiety for our country, and we prepare for that as well."
While the Australian government pointed to the CCP as a backer behind cyberattacks against the country, Marles said there was a need to maintain "excellent" diplomacy with Beijing and stabilize the relationship between the two nations. At the same time, he also assured the Australian population that Canberra was trying to make critical infrastructure defense as robust as possible.
"That's why we're seeing an A$10 billion ($6.5 billion) investment over ten years in the ASD, which effectively doubles [its] size. It is a huge uplift in our cyber capability and our cyber defense."
Marles' remarks followed an admission by Australian Cybersecurity Minister Clare O'Neil that the Land Down Under was vulnerable to cyberattacks. In turn, she made the admission after DP World, Australia's second-largest port operator, was hacked on Nov. 10. The incident sparked fears of a severe disruption to the supply chain.
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