“A sophisticated state actor” has hacked the networks of the major political parties, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told Parliament.
Recently the Parliament House network was disrupted, and the intrusion into the parties’ networks was discovered when this was being dealt with.
While the government has not identified the “state actor”, the Chinese are being blamed.
Morrison gave the reassurance that “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”.
In his statement to the House Morrison said: “The Australian Cyber Security Centre recently identified a malicious intrusion into the Australian Parliament House computer network.
"During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties - Liberal, Labor and the Nationals - have also been affected.
"Our security agencies have detected this activity and acted decisively to confront it. They are securing these systems and protecting users”.
The Centre would provide any party or electoral body with technical help to deal with hacking, Morrison said.
“They have already briefed the Electoral Commissions and those responsible for cyber security for all states and territories. They have also worked with global anti-virus companies to ensure Australia’s friends and allies have the capacity to detect this malicious activity,” he said.
“The methods used by malicious actors are constantly evolving and this incident reinforces yet again the importance of cyber security as a fundamental part of everyone’s business.
"Public confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes is an essential element of Australian sovereignty and governance,” he said.
“Our political system and our democracy remains strong, vibrant and is protected. We stand united in the protection of our values and our sovereignty”.
Bill Shorten said party political structures were perhaps more vulnerable than government institutions - and progressive parties particularly so.
“We have seen overseas that it is progressive parties that are more likely to be targeted by ultra-right wing organisations.
"Political parties are small organisations with only a few full-time staff, they collect, store and use large amounts of information about voters and communities. These institutions can be a soft target and our national approach to cyber security needs to pay more attention to non-government organisations,” Shorten said.
Although the authorities are pointing to a “state actor”, national cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon told a news conference: “We don’t know who is behind this, nor their intent.
"We, of course, will continue to work with our friends and colleagues, both here and overseas, to work out who is behind it and hopefully their intent”.
Asked what the hackers had got their hands on MacGibbon said: “We don’t know”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra