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Foreign Cyber Attackers Continue to Menace Australia

People walk through the city centre in Sydney
People walk through the city centre in Sydney

Australian businesses and government departments continue to be targeted by cyberattacks by a “sophisticated state-based actor,” according to senior officials in Canberra. They have insisted the threat is intensifying and could interfere in Australia's economy and political systems.

Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds on Thursday warned that cyberattacks were blurring the lines between war and peace. She has said malicious activity targeting Australia had increased in recent months.

Her comments came as Australia’s first annual cyber threat report, compiled by intelligence officials, was released. The Australian Cyber Security Center said it received almost 60,000 reports of cyber-crime in the past year -- or one every 10 minutes.

The spectrum of offenses is broad. At one end the report says, there are opportunistic cybercriminals after companies’ and individuals’ money. At the other end “are sophisticated and very well-resourced state-based actors who are seeking to interfere” in Australia’s affairs.

Reynolds said the threat is getting worse.

“Cyber-enabled activities have the potential to drive disinformation, and also directly support interference in our economy, interference in our political system, and also in what we see as critical infrastructure, but more widely across many businesses and organizations in our economy,” she said.

Canberra won’t reveal who is behind the cyberattacks, but intelligence sources are blaming China for the intrusions.

In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country had suffered a large-scale cyberattack across "all levels of government, industry, political organizations, education [and] health.”

Officials have said that in the intervening period the attacks have continued.

This week, Rachel Noble, the head of the Australian Signals Directorat, a government intelligence agency, gave a rare speech. She warned it was becoming “near impossible” for agencies to successfully fight crime and espionage.

Civil liberties groups have said expanding the powers of Australia’s spy agencies would undermine privacy and could lead to an abuse of authority.