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Australia Moves to Protect Classified Docs from Cyber Espionage

  • Phil Mercer

FILE - A delegate at the FireEye Cyber Security Summit uses his laptop during a break in sessions at a venue in Sydney, Australia, March 17, 2016.

Australia says it will move classified government information from a private data center in Sydney after a Chinese consortium bought a major stake in the company. The move comes despite assurances from the company, Global Switch, that its files are secure.

Global Switch owns two secure data facilities in downtown Sydney, and stores classified Australian government defense and intelligence files.

Its ownership changed in December when its UK-based parent company accepted a $3 billion bid from Chinese investors for a 49 percent stake in the Sydney-based firm. Among the investors was an entrepreneur who owns part of China's leading data enterprise, the Daily Tech.

In response, Australian officials said they would move classified files from the private storage facility to a state-run data unit when its current contract expires in 2020, despite a promise from Global Switch that its services are secure.

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a respected think tank, says the government in Canberra is right to be wary of China’s cyber capabilities.

“China is certainly up there with Russia and Iran and North Korea as being amongst the most active cyber espionage entities. It is looking to steal information," he said. "Increasingly I think China is building a capability to actually go in and do damage to critical infrastructure through cyber means as well.”

The government says Australia is increasingly a target for cybercrime and espionage, and has warned that cyberspace was “under persistent threat.”

FILE - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.
FILE - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said cyber security was “the new frontier of warfare” and announced new measures to protect Australian democracy from foreign interference.

Last October, Canberra revealed a foreign power had managed to install malicious software on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's computer system to steal sensitive documents and compromise other government networks. Officials did not identify the country suspected of the breach, but security analysts pointed the finger at China.

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