A "sophisticated state-based cyber actor" is targeting Australia in an escalating cyber campaign that is threatening all levels of government, businesses, essential services, and critical infrastructure, the prime minister said Friday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not name the state, amid inevitable speculation that the cyberattacks were part of Australia’s increasingly hostile rift with China. Morrison said he made the growing threat public to raise awareness and particularly wanted organizations involved in health, critical infrastructure, and essential services to bolster technical defenses, the AP reports. A range of sectors are being targeted and the frequency of cyber intrusions to steal and cause harm has increased for months, he said.
"This is the actions of a state-based actor with significant capabilities. There aren’t too many state-based actors who have those capabilities," Morrison said. Monash University international security expert Greg Barton says the malicious nature of much of the reported cyber crimes suggests it is part of deteriorating relations between China and Australia. "There’s no doubt that it’s China," Barton says. “It might be a bit of rattling of the cage and reminding us that we have some vulnerabilities." China in recent weeks banned beef exports from Australia's largest abattoirs, ended trade in Australian barley with a tariff wall and warned its citizens against visiting Australia. The measures are widely interpreted as punishment for Australia's advocacy of an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
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