Chinese intelligence agencies that penetrated Australia’s parliamentary computer network in 2011 may have been inside the system for up to a year and had access to documents and emails that reveal the political, professional and social links across the political world, according to seven sources with knowledge of the breach. Security and parliamentary sources said Chinese agencies obtained remote, system administrator access to the Parliament’s computer network, which “effectively gave them control of it”.During 2011 The Australian indicated that Beijing was suspected of unauthorised access to the email system used by federal MPs, their advisers, electorate staff and others. The access occurred over several weeks.
The AFR goes on to comment that
Australian intelligence reached the “absolutely clear conclusion” that Chinese intelligence was responsible and informed their political masters the identities of the intruders. The intelligence services briefed the parliamentary committee that oversees security matters while it was in progress, sources said, and the network was shut down several times while analysts from the Australian Signals Directorate patched it. “It was like an open-cut mine,” said one participant. “They had access to everything.” China got access to all emails, contact databases and other documents stored on Parliament’s computers....
One participant said they were “surprised at the extent of the compromise and did not immediately comprehend why information on personal relationships and domestic politics would have been so useful to the Chinese”. ...
The parliamentary network is unclassified, which means it isn’t used for secret communication, so the information is likely to include a huge amount of mundane messages about the day to day life of politics, long lists of email addresses and phone numbers, and planning documents. But it could also include sensitive discussions between MPs about party matters and reveal lobbying by companies, pressure groups and ex-politicians. It is likely include embarrassing gossip about senior figures and their media strategies.Unsurprisingly the report refers to "shock and anger".
The Australian Signals Directorate, which has of course been criticised by what one contact characterises as the Snowdenistas, reportedly
carried out “vulnerability testing”, or authorised hacking, of the parliamentary network in 2010, prior to the detection of the Chinese breach. The probes found the network had very weak security and could be overcome by a low-level hacker.
After the compromise became public, a defence official met a senior Chinese diplomat and said the Chinese regime could not have done more to ostracise both sides of politics.That diplomat, as you'd expect, "denied knowledge of the breach".
The article in the AFR (with similar items in other Fairfax outlets) follows reporting on surveillance within and outside Australia by Chinese officials of Chinese students and other nationals.