Australia yesterday unveiled the “largest-ever” boost in cybersecurity spending, days after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out about a wave of state-sponsored attacks suspected to have been carried out by China.
Morrison and government officials said the country would spend an additional A$1.35 billion (US$928 million) on cybersecurity, about a 10 percent hike, taking the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion.
The largest chunk of the new money would help create 500 jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate, the government’s communications intelligence agency.
Morrison on June 19 said that a “state-based actor” was targeting a host of government entities, public services and businesses.
As with state-backed cyberattacks on Australia’s parliament, political parties and universities last year, China was seen as the likely culprit.
Morrison yesterday said that malicious cyberactivity against Australia was increasing in frequency, scale and sophistication.
Australia is a part of the FiveEyes intelligence network, but its cybersecurity funding pales compared with that of the US, China or Russia.
The funding was designed to “help ensure we have the tools and capabilities we need to fight back and keep Australians safe,” Morrison said.
In related news, the Chinese government yesterday labeled Australia a “fervent intelligence gatherer,” accusing it of a mass-scale espionage project that is “jeopardizing others’ sovereignty and security.”
In a statement sent to Australian media yesterday morning, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said a report in the Global Times, which claimed Australian spies in China were instigating defections, spying on Chinese students and feeding fake news to the media to hype up theories about Chinese spying, was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
Zhao accused Australia of playing “the part of the victim” publicly, despite “peddling rumors and stoking confrontation by staging a farce of the thief crying ‘stop thief.’”
Australia’s behavior had “long crossed the line,” he said.
“The Five Eyes intelligence alliance has long engaged in cyberespionage, spying and surveillance on foreign governments, companies and individuals in violation of international law and basic norms for international relations. This is not a secret to anyone,” Zhao said. “And Australia, an important member of the Five Eyes, has been a fervent intelligence gatherer in relevant countries. I am afraid that what is revealed by the Global Times this time is just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’”
“Some people and media in Australia are enthusiastic about producing such sensational stories as ‘China spying on and infiltrating Australia,’ yet they cannot justify their stories with any solid evidence,” Zhao said.
“In contrast, irrefutable evidence abound [sic] to prove Australia’s operation of spying activities in China. They steal information and data from other countries, jeopardizing others’ sovereignty and security,’” he said. “They owe an honest answer to the Chinese people and the international community.”
Zhao was responding to a Global Times story, based on an anonymous Chinese law-enforcement agency source, that said Australia had tried to install wiretaps in the Chinese embassy in Canberra, that included photographs of “spying materials” such as a compass, a USB flash drive, a notebook and a map of Shanghai, said to have been seized from arrested Australian agents.
A spokeswoman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “Australia’s intelligence and security agencies are committed to protecting our national security, including the important work of countering the serious threat of foreign interference.”
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