Chinese spies may have been inside Australia's parliamentary computer network for up to a year, according to reports. Photo: Andrew Taylor
The 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”.
In March 2011, The Australian newspaper and other media outlets reported that China was suspected of accessing, for more than a month, the email system used by federal MPs, their advisers, electorate staff and parliamentary employees. The perpetrators accessed several thousand emails, reports said.
Senior sources said the breach was much more serious. 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.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Canberra declined to comment.
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”.