CHINA has allegedly tried to hack into highly classified government computer networks in Australia and New Zealand as part of a broader international operation to glean military secrets from Western nations.
The Howard Government yesterday would neither confirm nor deny that its agencies, including the Defence Department, had been subject to cyber attack from China, but government sources acknowledge that thwarting such assaults is a continuous challenge.
“It’s a serious problem, it’s ongoing and it’s real,” one senior government source said.
Western intelligence experts say that China has also targeted the US, Canada, Germany and Japan as part of its global intelligence-gathering effort.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday confirmed that foreign intelligence agencies had tried to hack into government computer networks, but said they had not compromised top-secret data banks.
“The assurance I’ve been given by intelligence agencies is that no classified information has been at risk at all,” Miss Clark said.
“We have very smart people to provide protection every time an attack is tried. Obviously we learn from that.
“What I can stress is that absolutely no classified information has ever been penetrated by these attacks.”
While Miss Clark knew which countries were involved, she would not name them, saying her Government had not spoken to the nations concerned about the problem.
“That’s not the way intelligence matters are handled,” she said.
The Financial Times reported last week that Beijing had hacked into the Pentagon’s computer network earlier this year – a claim strenuously denied by Beijing.
The alleged cyber attack on the Pentagon came only days after China’s intelligence services were accused of hacking into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and three other German government ministries.
Miss Clark acknowledged on Monday that several governments had recently experienced attacks on their computer networks.
“It’s not something unique to us, it’s something that every country is experiencing,” she said.
Earlier, Warren Tucker, head of the New Zealand intelligence agency, the Security Intelligence Service, confirmed that foreign governments had hacked into New Zealand government computer systems.
The Dominion Post newspaper quoted Dr Tucker as saying government departments’ websites had been attacked, information stolen and hard-to-detect software had been installed which could be used to take control of computer systems.
There was evidence foreign governments were responsible for the attacks, he said, but did not name the countries concerned.
Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is sufficiently concerned about cyber attacks to be spending more than $70 million to improve the e-security of government and private computer networks.