5 min 2 yrs

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today called out the culprit behind a massive and sustained cyber-attack on Australian government and business that is underway.

While the PM didn’t directly name China, experts have stated flat-out that China is responsible. Following a crisis meeting with cabinet members last night, Morrison told reporters, “Australian organisations are currently being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor. . . This activity is targeting Australian organisations across a range of sectors, including all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.

“I’m here today to advise you that, based on advice provided to me by our cyber experts, Australian organisations are currently being targeted by a sophisticated state-based actor.”

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent defence policy think tank, isn’t so politic about naming the suspect. Talking to The Australian, he said, “I think you’ve got to sort of go through a checklist of factors, which is just the capability issues that Morrison talks about but also the interest and intent. The Russians could do it. The North Koreans could do it, but neither of them has an interest on the scale of this. They have no interest in state and territory government or universities.”

“So that leads me to conclude that the only country that has got the interest to go as broad and as deep as this and the only country with the sophistication and the size of the intelligence establishment to do it, is China. That’s very clear,” he said.

Clive Hamilton, China-expert and author of Silent Invasion, told The Daily Telegraph, “It could well be that these cyber-attacks are part of Beijing’s campaign to punish Australia for its insubordination in calling for an inquiry into COVID-19. I think the message is that we should be worried. China is sending us a message that ‘We’re big, you are small, and we have the capacity to punish you’.”

The nature of the attacks involved ‘phishing’, which uses deceptive messages and emails to gather a user’s information, as well as links which, when clicked, lead the user to malicious files.

 We cannot expect an end to these attacks, either. According to Cybersecurity Cooperative Research Centre chief executive Rachael Falk, there will be no end to the attacks. She urged all Australians to properly protect themselves, “Regrettably this is a trend that will not stop. As you heard the PM say, this is a clear call for all Australians to be cyber aware and protected,” she said. “Focusing on attribution is a distraction from the big issue here, which is that the government, businesses and individuals have to be cyber prepared.”

She is right about being cyber prepared but wrong about not focusing on attribution. Then again, she’s probably flogging policies.

Attribution is essential since China is not our friend. Currently, the ADF has dispatched warships and troops to join major US-led exercises in the Indo-Pacific to combat the rising tide of Chinese aggression in the region. If this isn’t a basis for attribution then what is? Likewise, COVID-19 has taken out the world economy, brought untold death, and changed the world as we know it. All thanks to China. We reckon that’s worthy of attribution.

However, as is typical with government, the conflicting signals are a matter of grave disturbance. Two days ago Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told the National Press Club the Morrison government was still open to joining China’s One Belt One Road on projects in the Indo-Pacific. This was a week after Scott Morrison said that Australia “didn’t recognise” the BRI.

This is a lesson that Nationalists wish Australians to learn. Never trust the major parties. Ever. They have a great habit of hoodwinking the people, particularly around election time.

The conservatives are notorious for making nationalist noises to lure votes their way and then abandoning their voter base to globalisation. It’s a classic time-honoured pattern. And it won’t end for the very fact that they can never take nationalist-minded folk where we need to go. It simply cannot happen, as they are creatures of the system.

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