Minister talks tough on cyber security

By Chris Johnson

Tuesday July 20, 2021

Karen Andrews
Australian home affairs minister Karen Andrews. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Cyber security is the highest priority for Karen Andrews.

The home affairs minister said as much on Tuesday when she promised to hold to account foreign state players threatening Australia’s national security.

She specifically named China, continuing the finger-pointing at Beijing for January’s massive cyber breach of Microsoft Exchange’s mail server.   

Andrews said she would repeatedly name China for cyber-attacks if the communist nation continued with its hacking agenda.  

“We are aware that there are serious implications for any attribution that is made to any nation,” she said.

“But we also will not compromise our position on sovereignty and national security and, in this instance with our partner nations, we needed to call out this malicious cyber-attack.

“We will continue to call out not only China but other nations if they launch and undertake significant attacks here.”

On Monday night, foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton joined Andrews in issuing a strong statement against China, saying it had ‘undermined international stability and security’ with its illicit cyber activity.

“Australia calls on all countries, including China, to act responsibly in cyberspace,” their statement said.

The UK, US, EU, Japan and NATO have joined with Australia to blame China for the attack on Microsoft.

The January hacking event is thought to have been supported by criminal groups. It exposed tens of thousands of government, public and private sector organisations across the globe to exploitation, costing billions of dollars in stolen intellectual property.

China’s Ministry of State Security has been blamed for the attack.

But Beijing has denied responsibility and vowed to retaliate against any sanctions. Initial comments were more directly aimed at the US, with China saying America had framed it for the hacking and was ‘stirring up new geopolitical disputes’.

But Beijing has imposed a number of trade sanctions against Australia as the bilateral relationship continues to worsen.

Responding specifically to the Australian accusations this week, the Chinese embassy in Canberra issued a statement further denying any blame.

“China firmly rejects the groundless accusations made by the Australian government on cyber issues, following the steps and parroting the rhetoric of the US,” the statement says.

Andrews has vowed to divert significant attention and resources to strengthening Australia’s cyber security.  

“We know that these attacks are increasing, and that is why I have made it clear that cyber security will be my number one priority as home affairs minister,” she said.


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