Australian officials yesterday refused to confirm or deny whether Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints of a new spy agency headquarters, as a news report claims.
A tiny party essential to the ruling coalition’s government demanded an inquiry into how much damage may have been done.
Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) television reported on Monday night that the plans for the A$630 million (US$608 million) Australian Security Intelligence Organization building had been stolen through a cyberattack on a building contractor. Blueprints that included details such as communications cabling, server locations and security systems had been traced to a Chinese server, the network reported.
Des Ball, an Australian National University cybersecurity expert, said China could use the blueprints to bug the building, which is nearing completion in Canberra after lengthy construction delays.
Ball told the ABC that given the breach, ASIO would either have to operate with “utmost sensitivity” within its own building or simply “rip the whole insides out and ... start again.”
Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, the minister in charge of the agency, yesterday refused to confirm or deny the report, citing a longstanding government policy of declining to comment on security matters.
He later said the lakeside glass and concrete structure did not need to be redesigned, and that ASIO will move in this year.
“This building is a very secure, state-of-the-art facility,” said Dreyfus, adding that the ABC report contained “unsubstantiated allegations.”
“I’m not going to comment on operational matters involving the Australian Security Intelligence Organization or any security matters,” he said.
Questioned in parliament about the alleged security breach, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the ABC report as “inaccurate,” but refused to go into detail.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said China opposed hacking in any form and questioned what evidence the ABC report relied on.
“Since it is technically untraceable, it is very difficult to find the source and identify the hacker,” Hong said. “Therefore we have no idea what is the evidence for their report in which they make the claim with such certainty.”
He said countries needed to cooperate to fight hacking.
“Groundless accusations won’t solve the problem,” Hong said.
The minor Greens party, which the center-left Labor Party relies on to maintain its minority government, has demanded an inquiry into the future of the troubled building, which has been plagued by cost blowouts from an original budget of A$460 million.
“It is time that we had an independent inquiry into the whole sorry history of the ASIO building and the extent to which the current hacking has compromised its capacity to ever be the building and serve the purpose for which it was intended,” Greens leader Christine Milne told reporters.
She said no more money should be spent on the building until an inquiry was held into the truth of the hacking allegation and the extent of the alleged security compromise.
The alleged hacking would appear to be “an extremely serious breach,” Milne said.