The ABC’s Four Corners program last night aired allegations that hackers – probably Chinese and probably associated with Chinese Government agencies – have stolen plans for ASIO’s new Canberra headquarters.
And it’s not just where the walls and doors and toilets are located. The plans show the location of server rooms. communications cables and internal security systems. The massively expensive construction program has been halted while the Government and its premier domestic spy agency work out what to do.
Four Corners reporter Andrew Fowler, in an explosive episode of the ABC’s flagship investigative program, spoke to a number of security experts who claimed that hackers have targeted key Federal Government departments and major corporations in Australia. Their intention is to steal national security secrets and vital business information.
One such target was BlueScope Steel, whose Colorbond sheet steel manufacturing process contains secret herbs and spices that the company would rather not let its competitors know about.
But of greater concern is cyber infiltration of the Australian Government, with the theft of the ASIO HQ plans the most prominent example.
Many of the security experts interviewed by Fowler on the program are adamant that much of this activity can be traced directly to agencies within the Chinese Government, which has of course repeatedly denied such claims.
In one case, said the program, an Australian company that supplies secret communications equipment used by military across the globe had its computer network hacked.
”It appears the hackers accessed the system holding vital design information involving a military radio system. The break-in meant secure communications used by Australia's allies could be compromised.”
As the ABC says, there is a “deafening silence” around this controversial issue. Many of the sources it spoke to appeared only on the condition of anonymity, the faces obscured and their voices electronically muffled to hide their identities. Very appropriate for this cloak and dagger sort of stuff.
“Companies won't speak about the break-ins because they fear it will alarm clients and shareholders. Governments refuse to speak up because inevitably they will be asked, who is doing this? The answer is uncomfortable.
“A number of people, including former government advisors in cyber security, claim the digital trail leads to China. Although it's unclear if the hackers are working for the Chinese Government, those same experts believe that any company doing significant business in China must assume it will be the target of corporate espionage.”