The Gillard government should publicly reveal what it knows about the severity of Chinese cyber attacks on Australian interests and engage with its leaders on the issue, the nation’s top defence research group says.
“Both the US and the UK have ‘called out’ China publicly for its relentless cyber assaults,” Tobias Feakin, senior analyst for national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said on Wednesday.
“Australia needs to work out what its position is on this vital issue. Currently it doesn’t have one.”
On Sunday Foreign Minister Bob Carr refused to finger China as being responsible for the growing number of cyber attacks on business and government that have been reported by The Australian Financial Review and the ABC.
“Cyber security is assuming a new level of importance,” ASPI said in a statement. “Whether it be theft of military, business, or sensitive data, 2013 has seen a succession of disturbing revelations about cyber espionage.”
ASPI highlighted that US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has accused China of apparently ordering “cyber attacks on the US government and private business” and that President Barack Obama will be raising concerns about Chinese hacking with President Xi Jinping at their first bilateral meeting on Friday.
Dr Feakin said that unless ground rules on what is “acceptable” cyber interference were agreed, mounting tensions between China and Western states risked spiralling “out of control”.
A major issue is China’s alleged hacking of poorly defended private companies to accelerate its economic development, which Western governments say does not accord with espionage convention.
Setting ground rules is critical
Enhanced communication on cyber “rules of the road”, which should be at the top of the agenda in the “2 plus 2” meetings between Australia and China’s defence and foreign ministers, would help “lower the frequency and intensity of cyber attacks” Dr Feakin argued.
ASPI also released a 12-page report, Enter the Cyber Dragon, which named the specific Chinese intelligence agencies responsible for cyber operations.
The report, written by Dr Feakin, draws attention to a statement by Lieutenant-General Qi Jianguo, head of foreign relations and intelligence inside the People’s Liberation Army.
“The West’s so-called ‘internet freedom’ actually is a type of cyber-hegemony”, he said. “In the information era, seizing and maintaining superiority in cyberspace is more important than seizing command of sea and command of the air were in World War II,” General Qi said.
The report says the PLA’s Third Department “oversees one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated [signals intelligence] and cyber collection infrastructures, and certainly the largest indigenous operation in the Asia region”. The PLA’s Fourth Department is “responsible for electronic warfare, countermeasures and computer network attack”.
ASPI recently hired Dr Feakin from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in Britain.
High frequency of attacks from Chinese sources
Since arriving in Australia, he has consulted with intelligence agencies. Dr Feakin said that Australia is subject to “a very high frequency of attacks from Chinese sources across the board”, which is equivalent to what he saw in Britain.
In comparison to Britain, cyber policy is much more “siloed”, Dr Feakin observed. “In the UK the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet coordinates all cross-agency policy whereas Australia has not achieved this fusion yet.”
Dr Feakin also noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had made a direct request to all FTSE 100 companies to share data on cyber incidents with Britain’s peak intelligence bodies.
ASPI was founded in 2000 by the federal government to provide contestable defence policy advice and is partly funded by the Department of Defence.Source: Financial Review – Australia should confront China on cyber attacks: analyst
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