Minister abandons tech for Chinese defence meeting: report

Jun 7, 2012 12:01 PM
Goes offline to avoid cyber spying.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith reportedly decided not to bring his laptop and mobile phone to bilateral defence minister talks in mainland China yesterday, to avoid cyber espionage.

According to newspaper reports yesterday, Smith left his laptop and mobile phone in Hong Kong ahead of an inaugural defence ministers' dialogue with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the anti-espionage precautions were arranged by Australia's defence department following allegations that laptops and mobile phones were compromised during previous ministerial visits to China.

Smith and Liang were expected to discuss China's concerns about US marines being stationed in northern Australia.

The US has accused "Chinese actors" of being the world's biggest perpetrators of economic espionage and US security experts warn of a rising number of internet-based attacks originating from China on US corporate and government computers.

China rejects the charges.

Concerns over cyber security was heightened last month with the discovery of the Flame virus, described as one of the most sophisticated pieces of malicious software discovered to date.

Security experts said the Flame virus was infecting computers in Iran and the Middle East and may have been deployed at least five years ago to engage in state-sponsored cyber espionage.

A spokeswoman from Smith's office declined to comment on the report or specific arrangements for the visit.

Earlier this year, Australia blocked Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunication company, from bidding on the national broadband network citing security concerns.

China is Australia's number one trading partner and the biggest customer for Australian exports. Bilateral trade is worth around $A105 billion a year with exports to China worth $A65 billion in 2010-11.

(Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Michael Perry)