news A document published by Wikileaks on the public Internet appearing to be an internal briefing document from global intelligence firm Stratfor has mentioned the alleged security breach on Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s parliamentary computer and has alleged that similar hack attacks have occurred before.
The hack was first outed by the Daily Telegraph in March 2011. At the time, the newspaper reported that at least 10 parliamentary computers, including those belonging to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, were suspected of being hacked, with government sources linking the attacks to foreign spy agencies.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the security breach started to occur in February 2011 and were carried on for more than a month. In the process, thousands of email are reported to have been accessed. Allegedly, four government sources declared Chinese agencies were among the foreign hackers suspected of having breached Australia’s cyber security. At the time, then-Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a statement he would not comment on current operations, but said Australian agencies were working in cooperation with national and international counterparts to ensure cyber-security.
However, in an internal briefing document published by Wikileaks over the past several weeks as part of what it has alleged is an extensive trove of documents sourced from global intelligence company Stratfor, one of the group’s Australian contacts alleged that it wasn’t the first time such a hack had taken place.
“This government has been very cavalier about security issues in China including bringing their laptops to China and even leaving them in their hotels, despite their security briefings,” the briefing document stated. “Source believes that these computers have been hacked before.”
“These computers are on the Parliamentary network, with public email addresses, namely for constituents including important companies (eg Rio, BHP, etc – quasi commercial/quasi national interest). There are separate ministerial computers. At least 10 officials have been hacked on the Parliamentary network. It is unclear if the ministerial computers have been compromised, but it is likely. Regardless, the amount of commercial information they could have obtained is enormous.”
The source of the briefing document was named as a “former Australian Senator”. The most high-profile Australian informant to be associated with Stratfor has been former National Party Senator Bill O’Chee, who was revealed in the documents as ‘Source CN65’. The Wikileaks briefing on the hack mentions that the source is the same ‘Source CN65’.
The briefing document, filed in March 2011, also links the hacking to the Government’s flagship National Broadband Network policy, noting that Chinese networking vendor Huawei was being considered as a supplier to the National Broadband Network Company.
Over the past several years, a number of reports by major Australian publications have attempted to link Huawei with Chinese espionage activities, but no evidence of such links have so far been proven. The organisation has gone to great lengths to disprove such allegations, opening its facilities for inspection and appointing an Australian advisory board staffed with former senior politicians such as foreign minister Alexander Downer and Victorian Premier John Brumby. In addition, the company already has major contracts with telcos such as Optus and Vodafone.
However, the Stratfor briefing document claims that “Australia’s security guys are going nuts”. “The potential for their entire security apparatus to be compromised is great,” it adds. “The increase in hacking is a test. They think the West is weak. They don’t think the US will respond and they know the Australians won’t respond.”
To be honest, as scandalous as it seems, this Stratfor briefing document appears to be nothing more than a warmed-over summary of news articles, spiced up with a little implied international diplomatic innuendo and intrigue. If this is what Stratfor’s clients are paying for, they’re certainly not getting value for money. You could have gotten a far greater insight into the events this briefing chronicles simply by reading the broader media coverage on the issue.
Linking Huawei’s name in the same briefing document to the alleged hack attacks on the parliamentary PCs and the National Broadband Network is also simply flat-out ridiculous. There have never been any allegations proven of links between Huawei and espionage activities on telecommunications networks, despite the apparent beliefs on the part of some newspapers and intelligence agencies. And the NBN simply has nothing to do with any security breaches on parliamentary computers.
The most interesting claim in the briefing is that similar hacks have occurred before. To be honest, I’m sure they have, at least at low levels, and not necessarily by foreign governments. A series of audit reports on government agencies published over the past several years has conclusively shown that Australia’s Governments are close to useless in some areas when it comes to securing their technical infrastructure and data. They are simply not set up well to defend against this kind of technological espionage.
You would assume the infrastructure used by the Prime Minister and her team would be a grade higher in terms of security, but one never quite knows. When it comes to security and Australian Goverments, anything is possible.
However, if such hacks have occurred before, they would appear to have had relatively little impact on either Australia’s international relationships. Could it be that there’s just not that much internationally sensitive data in there to steal? Quite possibly. The really secret stuff most likely wouldn’t be found on parliamentary PCs.