Australia‘s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the country’s major political parties were hacked earlier this month alongside the federal parliament by a “sophisticated state actor”.
The announcement on Monday came 10 days after the launch of a probe into the cybersecurity breach of the parliament’s computer network.
Morrison told parliament that, while investigating the parliament hack, “we also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected”.
“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he said.
The parliament hack, which was unveiled on February 8, had forced MPs and staff members to reset their computer passwords as a precaution.
At the time, the Australian Signals Directorate had confirmed it was working with parliament in response to the breach, a move that indicated the possible involvement of sophisticated actors.
Local media had also reported intelligence agencies were looking into whether a foreign government could be behind the attack.
Australia is expected to hold elections in mid-May, raising concerns that hackers could be trying to influence the outcome of the vote or change the tenor of the debate.
Along with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, Australia is part of the Five Eyes intelligence network, which gives it access to a host of signals and human intelligence to back up any suspicions of state hacking.
“Our political institutions represent high-value targets. But we have resilient systems in place to detect compromises and remediate them,” said Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
He added that the hackers were sophisticated enough to get into the network, but “not sophisticated enough to remain undetected”.
He said it was unclear whether the attackers gained access to sensitive data or emails.
“We don’t know. These are very early days,” he said. “We genuinely do not know.”
Morrison insisted, however, that there was “no evidence of any electoral interference”.
“We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system.”
He added that the Australian Cyber Security Centre stood ready to help any party or electoral body in need of support.
“They have already briefed the Electoral Commissions and those responsible for cybersecurity for all states and territories.”