Cyber espionage is giving China's intelligence agencies vast amounts of information but it's unclear what they're doing with the data or whether it's useful, a new study says.
A paper by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the scale of Chinese cyber-operations is vast, with United States President Barack Obama raising it in recent talks with China's new president Xi Jinping.
But the sophistication of some Chinese cyber-espionage is in question, which could offer an insight into why they are caught so often.
ASPI national security analyst Tobias Feakin said China possessed both civilian and military intelligence organisations and cyber espionage and attacks were most often attributed to departments of the People's Liberation Army.
But China lacks any centralised mechanism for assessing intelligence and filtering it into a common position for government consideration.
In Australia, that's done by the Office of National Assessments, which co-ordinates activities of intelligence agencies and reports to the prime minister and cabinet.
Mr Feakin said stealing information wasn't the same as being able to use it.
"While Chinese intelligence agencies are collecting vast quantities of data, what happens to it once it's collected is relatively unknown," he said in the paper.
"We're not certain how the data is processed and analysed and whether it ever becomes a fully usable intelligence product that's of value to Chinese policy-makers."
Mr Feakin said most recently China was accused of stealing plans for the new Australian Security Intelligence Organisation building. It's also routinely accused of stealing US technology and military secrets.
But there has been little discussion of Russia's advanced capabilities or about the US having the most advanced cyber-espionage by some margin.
Mr Feakin said the nature and tempo of Chinese cyber-activities had policy implications for the Australian government, which had yet to state its position.
"This is an issue that can't be ignored. It must be addressed in order to build an increasingly mature relationship with China," he said.
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