By Rob Taylor
Chinese hackers have stolen the blueprints of a new multi-million-dollar Australian spy headquarters as part of a growing wave of cyber attacks against business and military targets in the close U.S. ally, a Australian news report said.
The hackers also stole confidential information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which houses the overseas spy agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s ABC Television said late on Monday.
The ABC report, which did not name sources, said Chinese hackers had targeted Australia-based companies more aggressively than previously thought, including steel-manufacturer Bluescope Steel, and military and civilian communications manufacturer Codan Ltd.
The influential Greens party on Tuesday said the reported hacking was a “security blunder of epic proportions” and called for an inquiry, but the government refused to confirm the security breach.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the report would not damage Canberra’s ties with its biggest trade partner China.
“We have enormous areas of cooperation with China. I won’t comment on whether the Chinese have done what is being alleged or not,” Carr told reporters on Tuesday.
Hackers using a computer server traced to China had stolen floorplans of a new A$630 million headquarters for the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation, the country’s domestic spy agency, said the ABC report.
The attack through the computers of a construction contractor exposed not only building layouts, but also the location of communication and computer networks, said the ABC.
Australia security analyst Des Ball told the ABC in the report that such information made the yet to be completed spy headquarters vulnerable to future cyber attacks.
“You can start constructing your own wiring diagrams, where the linkages are through telephone connections, through wi-fi connections, which rooms are likely to be the ones that are used for sensitive conversations, how to surreptitiously put devices into the walls of those rooms,” said Ball.
The ASIO building, being built near the location of Australia’s top secret Defence Signals Directorate, is supposed to have some of the most sophisticated hacking defences in the country, which is part of a global electronic intelligence gathering network including the United States and the UK.
But its construction had been plagued by delays and cost blowouts, with some builders blaming late changes made to the internal design in response to cyber attacks.
Australian officials, like those in the United States and other Western nations, have made cyber attacks a security priority following a growing number of attacks of the resource rich country, mostly blamed on China.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei was last year barred from bidding for construction contracts on a new Australian high-speed broadband network amid fears of cyber espionage.
The Reserve Bank of Australia said in March that it had been targeted by cyber attacks, but no data had been lost or systems compromised amid reports the hackers had tried to access intelligence on Group of 20 wealthy nations negotiations.
In the United States, the Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military developments accused Beijing for the first time of trying to break into U.S. defense networks, calling it “a serious concern”.
China has dismissed as groundless both the Pentagon report and a February report by the U.S. computer security company Mandiant, which said a secretive Chinese military unit was probably behind a series of hacking attacks targeting the United States that had stolen data from 100 companies.