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Australia blames foreign power for parliamentary cyber-attack

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that a recent cyber-attack on his parliament’s computing network was probably conducted by a foreign state, although he did not name the suspect.

Morrison described the attack as a “malicious intrusion” that also affected the network of major political parties on 8 February.

As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected the attack.

A joint statement from House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith and Senate president Scott Ryan said at the time there was no evidence that data had been accessed in the breach, but lawmakers were advised to change passwords.

“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” Morrison told parliament.

“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labour and Nationals have also been affected.”

“Let me be clear, though – there is no evidence of any electoral interference. We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system,” he added.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre, the government’s main cyber security agency, has briefed federal and state election authorities.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, will hold elections on 23 March. A federal election will be held on a date to be set in May.

Although Australian officials have not blamed any country, in 2011 it was reported that China was suspected of accessing the email system used by lawmakers and parliamentary staff.

The country has also banned the Chinese firm Huawei from participating in some of its infrastructure bids over fears that it has deep links with the Chinese government. 

Election interference has been high on the international agenda ever since America’s 2016 presidential vote.

Russian hackers stole and published more than 150,000 emails from various Democratic targets in what US spymasters and senior lawmakers described as a wide-ranging effort to help elect Donald Trump.

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