Report concludes Australian weather bureau hacked by 'foreign spies'

12 Oct 2016 | By Supriya Kaur

An official report has concluded that a major hacking-incident that targeted the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in December 2015 was indeed carried out by 'foreign spies'.

Australian news reports had previously quoted government officials who believed China to be behind the hacking; China vehemently denied any role.

The BoM produces crucial weather and scientific research information which is of much significance to many countries.

In context: Australian government under radar of cyber-terrorists

Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology provides weather forecasts, warnings, hydrology, radar images, satellite images and marine weather. It also supplies information for commercial airlines and shipping, national water supplies analysis and works closely with the defence department.

BackgroundThe Hacking Incident

On December 2, 2015, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) was the victim of a major hacking incident.

Australia's public broadcaster quoted 'multiple official sources' who confirmed the attack and claimed it was "massive".

Officials also said it would take years and cost 'hundred of millions of dollars' to repair the damage.

The BoM, that owns one of Australia's largest supercomputers, refused to comment.

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December 2015Australia blamed China for hacking; China denied

The Australian public broadcaster quoted officials who believed China to be the likely culprit for the BoM attack however no reasons were given for these speculations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, summarily dismissed these allegations and said these were "groundless accusations".

She reiterated that China "firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyber-attacks".

Fingers point at China

Australia had previously accused Chinese hackers of stealing blueprints from Australia's intelligence agency's headquarters in 2013. Later that year, Chinese hackers were again blamed by the US for compromising 4 million records of government employees. Chinese officials called these accusations "irresponsible".

Cyber-attacksUnited States and China

The US has repeatedly pinned the blame on China for supporting cyber attacks on US government agencies and American businesses.

In September 2015, US President Barack Obama had raised this issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said that the US would apply sanctions and aggressively "go after cybercriminals either retrospectively or prospectively."

President Jinping responded by warning against "politicizing" computer hacking threats.

12 Oct 2016Report concludes Australian weather bureau hacked by 'foreign spies'

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DetailsThe Cyber Security Investigation

The investigation report detected suspicious activity on two computers on BoM's network.

Evidence of malware "popular with state-sponsored cyber adversaries" and those "associated with cybercrime" was found.

Similar "Remote Access Tool" (RAT) malware had been previously used to compromise other Australian government networks.

The report linked the malware to "a foreign intelligence service" and did specify which country was suspected to be responsible.

Cyber-terrorism: A growing threat

The Australian Signals Directorate reported 1,095 cyber-security attacks that were considered "serious enough to warrant operational responses" within an 18 month time frame, from January 2015 - June 2016. Australian Prime Ministerial aide, Dan Tehan said that cyber-terrorism was "real" and "a growing threat".