Hackers steal Aussie spy plans - claim

Last updated 05:00 29/05/2013

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Australian officials have refused to confirm or deny whether Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints of a new spy agency headquarters as a news report claims.

A tiny party essential to the ruling coalition's government demanded an inquiry into how much damage may have been done.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. television reported on Monday night that the plans for the 630 million Australian dollar ($608 million) Australian Security Intelligence Organization building had been stolen through a cyberattack on a building contractor.

Blueprints that included details such as communications cabling, server locations and security systems had been traced to a Chinese server, the network reported.

Des Ball, an Australian National University cybersecurity expert, said China could use the blueprints to bug the building, which is nearing completion in Canberra, the capital, after lengthy construction delays.

Ball told the ABC that given the breach, ASIO would either have to operate with "utmost sensitivity" within its own building or simply "rip the whole insides out and ... start again."

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, the minister in charge of the spy agency, on Tuesday refused to confirm or deny the report, citing a longstanding government policy of declining to comment on security matters.

He later said the lakeside glass and concrete structure did not need to be redesigned, and that ASIO will move in this year.

"This building is a very secure, state-of-the-art facility," said Dreyfus, adding that the ABC report contained "unsubstantiated allegations."

"I'm not going to comment on operational matters involving the Australian Security Intelligence Organization or any security matters," he said.

Questioned about the alleged security breach in Parliament, Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the ABC report as "inaccurate" but refused to go into detail.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China opposed hacking in any form and questioned what evidence the ABC report relied on.

"Since it is technically untraceable, it is very difficult to find the source and identify the hacker," Hong said. "Therefore we have no idea what is the evidence for their report in which they make the claim with such certainty."

He said countries needed to cooperate to fight hacking. "Groundless accusations won't solve the problem," Hong said.

The minor Greens party, which the center-left Labor Party relies on to maintain its minority government, has demanded an inquiry into the future of the troubled building, which has been plagued by cost blowouts from an original budget of 460 million Australian dollars.

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"It is time that we had an independent inquiry into the whole sorry history of the ASIO building and the extent to which the current hacking has compromised its capacity to ever be the building and serve the purpose for which it was intended," Greens leader Christine Milne told reporters.

She said no more money should be spent on the building until an inquiry was held into the truth of the hacking allegation and the extent of the alleged security compromise.

The alleged hacking would appear to be "an extremely serious breach" to Australia's intelligence-sharing allies, including the United States, Milne said.

Dreyfus didn't immediately respond to the Greens' call for an inquiry.

ASIO, Australia's main spy agency, has grown rapidly since the al-Qaida attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and needs the new headquarters to house its growing staff that has trebled to almost 1,800 in a decade.

Tobias Feakin, a security analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that if a security breach has occurred, it could affect intelligence sharing with allies.

"There is no doubt that instances like this, if proved true, create a period of difficulty," Feakin said.

"But one thing that would happen is that there would be mutual assistance provided to be able to plug that gap and no intelligence agency could possibly allow that kind of breach to continue."

Foreign Minister Bob Carr refused to discuss the allegations but said the claims do not jeopardize Australia's ties with its most important trading partner, China.

"It's got absolutely no implications for a strategic partnership," Carr said. "We have enormous areas of cooperation with China."

- AP

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