China denies being behind Aus cyber strike

Colin Brinsden
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CANBERRA CHINESE EMBASSY STOCK

China denies it is behind the increased cyber attacks on public and private entities in Australia

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack won't be drawn on who is behind the spate of cyber strikes on Australia, as China denied any part in the attacks, saying such suggestions are "baseless".

But an Australian think tank is standing by its claim the attacks almost certainly came from the Asian superpower.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday confirmed Australia has been the target of increased cyber attacks by a foreign entity, describing it as a "sophisticated, state-based cyber actor".

Mr McCormack, campaigning with Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks for the upcoming Eden-Monaro by-election, said the Australian government takes the security of the nation's data "very, very seriously".

"I know the Australian Cyber Security Centre and other organisations are making sure that every step of the way we have placed Australians' data security as the number one topic," he told reporters in Bungendore on Saturday.

But like Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who was briefed by Australia's security agencies, he refused to say who was behind the attack.

Asked if the government would be prepared to name the culprit if the attacks continued, Mr McCormack said: "That is hypothetical."

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute argues the attack was "95 per cent or more" likely to have been launched from China because of its scale and intensity.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed such allegations, and took particular aim at ASPI.

"The attacks coming from institute against China are totally baseless nonsense," Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing, and claimed ASPI is backed by US arms companies.

ASPI executive director Peter Jennings said China's response was "laughable nonsense".

Asked why ASPI was singled out when other experts have also hinted the attacks came from China, Mr Jennings said the institute has done a range of work the Chinese doesn't like.

This includes analysis on forced labour using prisoners and on the Chinese agency that pushes propaganda both at home and abroad.

"We have freedom of speech, which is something that you have also not got in China, and I think the Chinese officialdom find that uncomfortable and unusual," Mr Jennings told the ABC.

The decision by the Australian government to raise concerns over cyber security comes at a time of growing tensions with China, with the two countries falling out over the origin of the coronavirus, trade, travel and most recently, the death sentence handed to an Australian drug smuggler.

But federal LNP MP Andrew Laming says the "cacophony" of accusations over the cyber attack isn't helping.

"Clearly there was a line in the sand with (the prime minister's) statement, but it's not constructive then for additional commentators to engage in a tit-for-tat," Dr Laming told ABC television.

Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth said the priority was for Australian businesses and governments to take precautions against future attacks.

"In some ways, it doesn't matter where these attacks come from, it's the consequence of these attacks," she told ABC television.

"Singling out an individual actor doesn't actually achieve anything."