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Mystery Hacker Steals Australian Defense Data

  • Phil Mercer

FILE - A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this picture taken on May 13, 2017.

A mystery hacker who was given the alias of a TV soap opera character has stolen sensitive information about Australia's multi-billion dollar warplane and navy projects. Intelligence officials say the break was significant, although the Australian government insists that only low-level data was taken. The identity of the cyber criminal is not known.

The virtual break-in saw cyber thieves take illustrations of a major Australian naval project. About 30GB of data was stolen. Details about new fighter planes, submarines and Australia’s largest warships were also compromised. The breach began in July last year, but the Australian Signals Directorate, a domestic spy agency, was not alerted until November. Intelligence officials say the hack, which targeted a private defence contractor in South Australia state, was - in their words - ‘extensive’ and ‘extreme.’

But the government is insisting there was no threat to national security.

Australia’s Defence Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, says only low-level data was taken.

“I am pleased in a way that it reminds Australian business of the dangers that lurk out there," said Pyne. "The information that has been stolen is commercial information. It is not classified information, so it is not military information. The government is doing its job. Australian businesses need to be thorough in providing for their cyber security otherwise they will not get contracts with the government.”

It is thought the hacker had exploited a weakness in software being used by the government contractor in the city of Adelaide, which had not been updated for 12 months.

Australian cyber security officials humorously dubbed the mystery attacker "Alf", after a character on the popular TV soap opera ‘Home and Away’. They haven’t said if they suspect a foreign state was involved.

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

Last year, a foreign power, reported in sections of the Australian media to be China, installed malicious software on computers at Australia’s national weather bureau.

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