China dismisses claims of being behind Australian cyber attack

Beijing dismisses claims of being behind a major cyber-attack on the Australian government, and says both China and the U.S. have “frank and constructive” attitudes on the issue of cyber security.

BEIJING, CHINA (DECEMBER 2, 2015) (REUTERS) – Beijing dismissed accusations that China was behind a massive Australian cyber attack on Wednesday (December 2), describing the accusations as “groundless”.

A major cyber-attack against Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology that may have compromised potentially sensitive national security information is being blamed on China, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on Wednesday.

The Bureau of Meteorology owns one of Australia’s largest supercomputers and the attack, which the ABC said occurred in recent days, may have allowed those responsible access to the Department of Defence through a linked network.

The ABC, citing several unidentified sources with knowledge of the “massive” breach, placed the blame on China, which has in the past been accused of hacking sensitive Australian government computer systems.

“It’s China,” the ABC quoted one source as saying.

The Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement on its website that it did not comment on security matters, but that it was working closely with security agencies and that its computer systems were fully operational.

The Australian Federal Police declined to comment on the matter. The Department of Defence said in a statement that it was barred by policy from commenting on specific cyber security incidents.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the accusation.

“Chinese government firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyber attacks. We consistently emphasized that the issue of internet security is a global problem, the parties concerned need to strengthen dialogue and cooperation to jointly solve the problem in the spirit of mutual respect, we believe that groundless accusations and speculation are not constructive,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

China’s official Xinhua news agency also said on Wednesday that an investigation into a massive U.S. computer breach last year that affected more than 22 million federal workers found the hacking attack was criminal, not state-sponsored.

In an article about a meeting between top U.S. and Chinese officials on cyber security issues held in Washington, Xinhua said the breach at the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was among the cases discussed.

The report did not give details of who conducted the investigation, or whether U.S. and Chinese officials both agreed with the conclusion.

“As for the exact situation surrounding the specific case you’ve mentioned, I think you can see from my relevant introduction that both sides have frank and constructive attitudes and are willing to solve the issue of cyber security through dialogue and exchanges,” Hua said.

She also listed out the outcomes of the dialogue, which include guiding principles on combating cybercrimes and a hotline.

China has long been accused of using its considerable computing resources to infiltrate online businesses for competitive advantage, as well as conducting acts of cyber espionage.

In June, U.S. officials blamed Chinese hackers for compromising the records of up to four million current and former government employees.

China called the U.S. comments irresponsible, while President Barack Obama vowed that the United States would aggressively bolster its cyber defences.

China is Australia’s top trading partner, with two-way trade of about A$150 billion ($110 billion) in 2013, and they signed a landmark free trade agreement in 2014 that is likely to further boost commercial ties.

Australia needs China’s help to transition from a reliance on exports of minerals such as coal and iron ore to expanding its food and agricultural exports to a growing Asian middle class, moving from a “mining boom” to a “dining boom”.