The networks of Australia’s largest political parties were caught up in the malicious intrusion of the parliamentary computing network by a state-based actor earlier this month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said the activity was uncovered during the investigation into the security breach that forced parliamentarians and their staff to reset their passwords.
“During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and Nationals – have also been affected,” he said.
“Our security agencies have detected this activity and acted decisively to confront it. They are securing these systems and protecting users.”
Morrison was quick to reiterate initial assurances provided by parliament’s presiding officers that there was “no evidence of any electoral interference” and that a number of measures had been put in place to “ensure the integrity though of our electoral system”.
“I have instructed the Australian Cyber Security Centre to be ready to provide any political party or electoral body in Australia with immediate support, including making their technical experts available,” he said.
“They have already briefed the electoral commissions and those responsible for cyber security for all states and territories. They have also worked with global antivirus companies to ensure Australia’s friends and allies have the capacity to detect this malicious activity.”
Morrison also said that while Australian Cyber Security Centre and Australian Signals Directorate were continuing to investigate the incident, the sophisticated nature of the attack suggested that a state actor was responsible.
“I do not propose to go into the detail of these operational matters, but our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he said.
The ABC previously reported that the incident was likely the result of a foreign government, but there had been no confirmation from ASD.
Morrison said the incident against parliament house and political networks highlighted the need for vigilance against cyber security on everyone’s part.
“The methods used by malicious actors are constantly evolving and this incident just reinforces yet again the importance of cyber security as a fundamental part of everyone’s business,” he said.
Elaborating on the incident on Monday afternoon, the Director-General of Security Duncan Lewis told senate estimates that the “penetration” was “confined to a limited attack” against the Department of Parliamentary Services and the three major parties.
He said there was “no evidence” that “the electoral machinery”, which includes the Australian Electoral Commission and the state and territory electoral commissions, had been compromised.
Australia’s four major political parties were granted $300,000 last July to secure their systems following Russia’s alleged cyber interference in the 2016 US election.
The limited funding was expected to go towards implementing either ASD’s top four or essential eight cyber mitigation strategies to level three maturity.
Updated to include comments from Duncan Lewis