China accused of cyber-attack on Australian Bureau of Meteorology

China is being accused for a major cyber-attack on the computer system of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology. Potentially sensitive national security data may have been compromised across the Federal Government in the breach. The bureau owns one of Australia's largest supercomputers, providing critical information to a slew of agencies.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports that the bureau's computer system was also connected to the Department of Defence. One official told ABC “It's China”.

China has denied involvement in the attack. “As we have reiterated on many occasions, the Chinese government is opposed to all forms of cyber-attacks,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “We have stressed that cyber-security needs to be based on mutual respect.” In the past, China has been accused of hacking sensitive Australian government computer systems.

James Turner, spokesman for the Australian Information Security Association said if China were behind the cyber-attack, it was unlikely to have been going after computing power since it has its own supercomputers. Turner says is more likely that its after the information assets or data that is accessible from the connections of the bureau. “We can assert that they [China] are looking for opportunities to gain economic advantage,” Turner said.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) executive director Peter Jennings said, “We certainly know that among the most active intelligence gatherers is Chinese intelligence. So what we understand of the Chinese attack on the BoM is entirely consistent with what we know of how Chinese intelligence operates.” Motivation for the attack could be commercial and/or strategic.

A statement from the bureau said, “The Bureau's systems are fully operational and the Bureau continues to provide reliable, on-going access to high quality weather, climate, water and oceans information to its stakeholders.”