Following PM’s warning, Australian industry weighs the real threat from China

Conflict with China escalates on all fronts, online and off, as Australia fast-tracks cyber security investment.

Australia’s cyber security industry has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks, with industry announcements and significant new government investments on the back of an opaque prime ministerial warning that Australia was effectively locked in a cyber war with China.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was already raising eyebrows when he offered just a half hour’s notice of a hastily called press conference on 19 June—so important that he had, unusually, requested the presence of the opposition leader as well—putatively to warn citizens to make sure they had updated their iPhones.

Yet it was in the hours and days afterwards that the real reason for his press conference—a morning event that began half an hour after news networks were informed of it—that details emerged of an orchestrated series of cyber attacks by a “sophisticated state-based cyber actor on what Morrison called “all levels of government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure”.

Morrison declined in his statement to name the nation-state actor, but analysts wasted mere seconds before attributing the attacks to China—which has levelled punishing new trade sanctions and economically damaging propaganda against Australian interests.

SecureAuth APJ head of growth Michael Warnock wasn’t surprised, saying that “an attack at this scale is not a surprise”, particularly given the recent surge in political tensions as Australia asserts itself on the world stage.

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