Christopher Joye and Aaron Patrick, Financial Review, April 28, 2014
The Chinese intelligence agencies that penetrated Australia’s parliamentary computer network in 2011 may have been inside the system for up to a year and had access to documents and emails that reveal the political, professional and social links across the political world, according to seven sources with knowledge of the breach.
Security and parliamentary sources said Chinese agencies obtained remote, system administrator access to the Parliament’s computer network, which “effectively gave them control of it”.
In March 2011, The Australian newspaper and other media outlets reported that China was suspected of accessing, for more than a month, the email system used by federal MPs, their advisers, electorate staff and parliamentary employees. The perpetrators accessed several thousand emails, reports said.
Senior sources said the breach was much more serious. Australian intelligence reached the “absolutely clear conclusion” that Chinese intelligence was responsible and informed their political masters the identities of the intruders.
China got access to all emails, contact databases and other documents stored on Parliament’s computers.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Canberra declined to comment.
Intelligence agencies believe China will use the information for several purposes. By seeing who communicates with whom and how frequently, China will be able to map the relationships in domestic Australian politics in detail. It will also reveal many of the personal relationships of Australia’s present and future leaders.
The parliamentary network is unclassified, which means it isn’t used for secret communication, so the information is likely to include a huge amount of mundane messages about the day to day life of politics, long lists of email addresses and phone numbers, and planning documents.
But it could also include sensitive discussions between MPs about party matters and reveal lobbying by companies, pressure groups and ex-politicians. It is likely include embarrassing gossip about senior figures and their media strategies. A similar breach of the Japanese parliament’s computer network, also attributed to China, occurred later in 2011, according to international media reports.