Greens senator Scott Ludlam has launched a frustrated attack on Parliament House executives over perceived inaction in the wake of US spying revelations.
In a stream of documents that began in June this year, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden detailled electronic surveillance being conducted by the US government, including claims that security holes were built into Microsoft software, as well as Cisco hardware and encryption standards, to allow direct access to information by the intelligence agency.
Microsoft has publically denied any such 'backdoor' exists.
Senator Ludlam, who has been an outspoken opponent of such covert activity, yesterday asked Department of Parliamentary Service CIO Eija Seittenranta to detail any actions that had been taken to secure parliamentary communications aganinst US monitoring.
“When you became aware that the security vulnerability existed, that has been built into the software that we are all forced to use in this building, did you notify the occupants of this building?
“Was there a memo that I missed?” Ludlam demanded during yesterday's senate estimates hearing.
“These vulnerabilities have been in the public domain for months. Were you waiting on an estimates session to give it some consideration?” he asked.
Seittenranta described the backdoor claims as “rumours” and said she would wait upon notification of a breach by the Australian Signals Directorate before taking any action.
“We haven’t been given any validation that that exposure exists,” she said.
“We don’t have the capability or the skills in our fairly small IT team to look for that sort of evidence. We would be dependent on advice from the ASD.
"Generally for exposure like that - which would affect all of the government computing networks, not just ours - we would be expecting that they would give us some advice on how to address that," she said.
Seittenranta said Parliament House was wholly reliant on patches supplied by Microsoft to maintain the integrity of devices and communications running on its suite of products.
Put on the spot by Ludlam, she accepted that if the claims Microsoft was providing blanket access to US intelligence agencies were true, Australian parliamentarians would be exposed.
“Yes I suppose you should be able to assume that,” she agreed, adding that she would raise the issue with the ASD if Ludlam wished.
The matter became confused shortly after, however, when Seittenranta's colleague Steve McCauley claimed the DPS had in fact taken measures to remediate any IT vulnerabilities raised by the NSA scandal, and that all access to the network took place under the scrutiny of the DPS and ASD.
Senator Ludlam accused the DPS of double standards in its reaction to media reports of the NSA spying program.
“If the Chinese government had opened a backdoor in the operating system of every device in this room, and indeed this building, it would be a gargantuan scandal and presumably you would have called the ASD as soon as you were notified," he said.
“Is it the fact that it is the United States government that means you have taken this rather more relaxed attitude?”