Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said if the government had “credible evidence that hacking activity is linked to the Chinese government . . . concerns should be raised at the highest levels’’. Photo: Andrew Meares
The opposition has called on the Gillard government to confront Beijing over cyber attacks if it has evidence that hacking activity is linked to the Chinese government.
Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop was responding to a report in The Australian Financial Review that the Reserve Bank of Australia's computers had been penetrated by hackers using Chinese-developed malware. The hackers were believed to be in pursuit of secret information relating to the Group of 20, although no information was stolen or systems corrupted.
But Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who is responsible for the lead civil agency dealing with cyber attacks, and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who is responsible for the lead military agency, have all declined to respond to the report.
Ms Bishop, the deputy opposition leader, said if the government had "credible evidence that hacking activity is linked to the Chinese government . . . concerns should be raised at the highest levels''.
"China and Australia enjoy a robust economic partnership and have strong links at all levels of government,'' Ms Bishop said. "The relationship must be based on mutual respect and any concerns should be discussed in an open and frank manner.''
Intelligence sources have told the Financial Review that the federal government has been reluctant to confront China over cyber warfare because of difficulties tracing the origin of attacks and fears of upsetting the broader $100 billion-plus two-way trade relationship. "Given the number of ways attacks can be disguised it's not surprising the government is not willing to point the finger,'' one source told the Financial Review.
It is understood Australian protests may also not be well received by Beijing because Australia's secret Defence Signals Directorate eavesdrops on foreign communications and is understood to have the capability for its own offensive cyber operations.
In launching her national security statement in February, Ms Gillard said Australia should prepare for a decades-long cyber war but declined to name China or any other state aggressor.
Australia's reluctance to confront China persists despite the US internet security firm Mandiant in February revealing PLA Building 61398 in Beijing as the source of attacks in which technology blueprints and details of manufacturing processes from more than 100 major US businesses were reportedly stolen.
US President Barack Obama's national security adviser Tom Donilon on Monday called on China to investigate and put a stop to cyber attacks because they posed a threat to international trade, the reputation of Chinese industry and broader China-US relations.
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