Australia steps up fight against hackers

New cyber scheme follows attack on national weather bureau in which China is suspected

SYDNEY • Australia has unveiled a multimillion-dollar cyber scheme to combat hacking as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged an attack on the country's weather bureau last year but stopped short of blaming it on China.

The Australian leader said it was safe to assume that "efforts are made by foreign actors, both governmental and non-governmental, to penetrate" local agencies.

"I can confirm reports that the Bureau of Meteorology suffered a significant cyber intrusion, which was first discovered early last year, and the Department of Parliamentary Services suffered a similar intrusion in recent years," Mr Turnbull said yesterday as he announced A$230 million (S$241 million) in new government funding.

"I don't have anything further to add than what I've said today," he replied when asked if the weather bureau attack originated in China.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation in December cited an unnamed official blaming Beijing for the major cyber attack, in which hackers got inside computer systems at the bureau, which owns one of the nation's largest supercomputers and has links to the Defence Department.

Mr Turnbull said the new funding, which comes on top of an allocation of A$400 million over the next decade to strengthen cyber security, would include support for regular meetings between government, businesses and researchers on tackling emerging concerns.

The money would also help to boost international efforts, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, to take down cyber criminals.

"The Australian Crime Commission estimates the annual cost of cyber crime to Australia is over A$1 billion in direct costs," Mr Turnbull said. "But some estimates put the real costs to be as high as 1 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) a year, or about A$17 billion."

Mr Turnbull said the government was focusing not just on defensive measures but also offence, stressing that the Australian Signals Directorate intelligence agency- like its counterparts in the United States and Britain - had "very considerable capabilities", without elaborating.

Regional superpower China, Australia's largest trading partner, has been accused of organised hacking against the US government and private firms, as well as in other countries.

In 2013, Chinese hackers were accused of stealing the top-secret blueprints of Australia's new intelligence agency headquarters.

Two years earlier, the computers of the prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister were all suspected of being hacked in attacks reportedly originating in China.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Australia steps up fight against hackers'. Print Edition | Subscribe