Australia’s security agencies are investigating a likely cyber-attack attempt on the Federal Parliament’s computer system. It is alleged that the government believes that some foreign government is behind the attack.
The hackers were caught in the early stages of gaining access to the system because the authorities didn’t find any loss of data, but signs of an attempt to breach. The authorities, though changed the credentials as a precautionary step and continued with the investigations.
The authorities and agencies are looking at the Chinese angle if there is any connection, and this will remain subject to ongoing investigation.
In a statement, Federal Parliament’s presiding officers said authorities were yet to detect any evidence data had been stolen in the breach.
One source said the response to the attack had been swift but the hackers were “sophisticated this time around”.
Computer passwords have been reset as a precaution as the investigations continue.
The Parliament’s presiding officers said in a statement “We have no evidence that this is an attempt to influence the outcome of parliamentary processes or to disrupt or influence electoral or political processes”.
“Accurate attribution of a cyber-incident takes time and investigations are being undertaken in conjunction with the relevant security agencies.”
The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) is working to secure the network and says ‘action was taken as soon as the breach was detected’.
“The necessary steps are being taken to mitigate the compromise and minimize any harm,” ASD said in a statement.
A cybersecurity expert warned about the seriousness of the breach.
Nigel Phair, the professor from the University of Canberra, said: “If you look at what goes on in Parliament House, you’ve got politicians, you’ve got staffers, you’ve got government departments that are moving in and out of the organization and a lot of that is through electronic means.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no Federal Government departments or agencies had been targeted in the attack. But the detail was not shared about the breaches of the Parliament House.
“I don’t propose to go into any sort of detailed commentary on the source or nature of this,” Mr. Morrison said. “Once further information is available, then we will be in a position to provide further detail.”
The incident has been compared to a robber breaking into a house, whereby authorities know the front door has been broken, but are yet to find out if anything else has been taken, or if there is another way to break in.
The attack does not affect the computer systems of government ministers and their staff, however, it does affect government backbenchers, the Opposition, and crossbenchers.
Labor politicians and staff said access to their emails had been intermittent since the attack.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was satisfied with the response so far.
“I’ve had some briefings on it. I’m satisfied from what I’ve heard initially that our security agencies and the president [of the Senate] and the Speaker [of the House] have moved in the right way to make sure that our parliamentary networks are secure,” he said.
“They don’t have the budget of the Parliament of Australia. If I’m the prime minister I’m going to invest a lot more in the cybersecurity of our small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Mr. Shorten described the breach as a “wake up call”, saying while Parliament had the resources to respond to a cyber-attack, many small and medium-sized businesses did not.