Prime Minister Morrison speaks during a press conference revealing a state-based cyber attack in Canberra
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a news conference revealing a state-based cyberattack in Canberra, June 19, 2020.

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that a major cyberattack by a "sophisticated state-based actor" has hit the nation.

Morrison said the cyberattack on Australia has been sustained and widespread, affecting all levels of government, political parties, essential services and businesses. He said it had been going on for months and had become more frequent.

Asked if China might be responsible because of worsening bilateral relations, he would not say who was to blame.

“What I can confirm, with confidence, based on the advice, the technical advice that we have received, is that this is the action of a state-based actor with significant capabilities, and there aren't too many state-based actors who have those capabilities,” he said. This is part of the new world we live in. Regrettably, this is not peculiar.”

Morrison said there have, so far, been no large-scale breaches of personal or official data.

Businesses and government agencies are being urged to upgrade their online defenses. Technical advice on how to "detect and mitigate" threats is also being provided.

Australia’s Parliament was hit last year by a "malicious intrusion" on its computer networks. Reports said that Australian intelligence agencies suspected China's Ministry of State Security. The government in Canberra refused to comment.

Australia’s relationship with China, its biggest trading partner, is lucrative, but complex. Ties have been strained by allegations of Chinese interference in Australia’s domestic affairs. Canberra’s vocal push for a global investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan, infuriated Beijing.