Australian PM targeted by Chinese hackers?

Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia
Australian media reports are claiming that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been the target of a stream of attacks from Chinese hackers.

According to a report in The Australian, hackers attempted to break into laptops and mobile phone communications during Rudd’s visit to China in August last year.

In addition, the report says that intelligence sources claim that the authorities in Beijing made repeated attempts to break into Australian government and business networks, as well as foreign embassies based in Australia’s capital city, Canberra.

Coincidentally, Rudd served as a diplomat in Beijing and speaks Mandarin. As such it’s perhaps slightly more likely that he would have contacts and associates inside China who may communicate regularly with him – and it wouldn’t be outrageous to speculate that these could have been the vector for an attempted hack.

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It seems to be becoming more and more common for China to be singled out for state-sponsored cyber-espionage (see the recent discussion about GhostNet, for instance), but what is still lacking is any evidence proving that the attempted hacks are endorsed by the Chinese government or military rather than the work of independent hackers.

Furthermore, proving the origin of a hack attack is made even more complicated by the fact that cybercriminals can use compromised PCs owned by innocent people to act as a go-between when trying to break into someone’s computer. In other words – yes, a Chinese computer might have tried to connect to yours, but it may be under the control of someone in, say, India.

We’d be naive to think that the Chinese (and just about every other country around the world) isn’t using the internet for its political, commercial and military advantage, but we should be very cautious about making assumptions without having all the proof in front of us.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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