SYDNEY - Australia says its companies are among the global victims of an extensive campaign of cyber espionage attacks believed to have been backed by the Chinese government.
The confirmation came after the U.S. Justice Department charged two Chinese nationals for allegedly carrying out hacking on behalf of Beijing's Ministry of State Security.
In a strongly worded statement, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne outlined the government's "serious concern" about the hacking allegations.
She said cybercrime had "the potential to undermine global economic growth, national security and international stability."
The minster called for China "to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining a competitive advantage."
By directly accusing the Chinese state of approving a global campaign of online theft and interference, Canberra is taking a far sterner diplomatic line with Beijing than usual.
Tobias Feakin, Australia's ambassador for cyber affairs, said, "The fact that this is the first time we have ever actually named China as responsible for one of these kinds of activities is enough of a serious indication of how acute an issue we feel this is. ... This is the theft of intellectual property. There has been an impact on Australia."
Security authorities in Australia say the hackers, known as Advanced Persistent Threat 10, had been targeting IT companies around the world that provide services to medium-sized and large businesses. One official said the theft of intellectual property and commercial secrets was "audacious and huge."
The suspects are accused of stealing from the computer networks of companies and government agencies in a dozen countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany and Japan.
The FBI has said the group also infiltrated U.S. Navy computer systems and had taken the personal information of more than 100,000 people.