The Chinese threat
Australia ranked among the top ten targets for China’s cyber-intelligence operations.
China, thought to be behind the theft of emails from Parliamentary computers reported back in March, had the most extensive and "practiced" cyber-warfare capabilities in Asia.
However, ANU Professor Desmond Ball said that China's technical expertise was "uneven" and that the actions of private netizens ("wangmin") were often confused as those of the official cyber-warfare units.
Not all netizens were motivated by national causes, he said.
Presenting a subset of data from his “China’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities” paper, Ball said that China was the biggest victim country of hacking, with at least as many netizens seeking to attack the country's own Great Firewall as those targeting foreign network assets.
According to the National CERT Technical Coordination Centre in Beijing, more than 4600 Chinese government websites had their content modified by hackers in 2010, a 68 percent increase over the previous year.
Furthermore the vast majority of personal computers in China (over 80 percent) were infected with a computer virus, according to Ball's figures.
Ball concluded there was no evidence that Chinese cyber-warriors could penetrate highly-secure networks or covertly steal or falsify critical data.
He rated China’s information warfare capabilities as inferior for at least the next ten years.
“China’s cyber-warfare authorities must despair at the breadth and depth of modern digital information and communications systems and technical expertise available to their adversaries," he said.
However, the threat of a China-initiated cyber war meant Australia's national security agencies needed to strengthen their protective capabilities and be ready for retaliatory and offensive operations, he noted.