Australia has joined the US and other allies in accusing China of a global hacking campaign on Microsoft software.
Australia’s foreign affairs, home affairs and defence ministers say China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange software that affected thousands of networks worldwide.
The federal government has joined the US, UK, European Union, Japan, New Zealand and NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – to level the allegations.
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says the hacks “opened the door for cyber criminals to exploit the private sector for illicit gain”.
Businesses, rather than individuals, were the main hacking targets in Australia in January.
“It was a significant data breach and access was enabled to the systems so that they could be commanded and controlled outside the organisation,” Ms Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
Australia in the past avoided publicly attributing cyber attacks to China, but Ms Andrews said it was in the country’s interests to do so in this instance.
Former national cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon said China was unlikely to face significant consequences for working with criminals.
“China has used contractors to carry out what you would suggest is a legitimate state-based espionage activity,” he told ABC radio.
“We may not like it but its kind of what nations do to each other.
“And those contractors have then for their own gain carried out activities in parallel to what they were doing for the Chinese govt.”
“The reality is consequences for China will be pretty low”, Mr MacGibbon said.
Meanwhile, US authorities charged three security officials and one contractor with hacking between 2011 and 2018 that targeted information to benefit the Chinese state.