Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that the country has been targeted by "sophisticated, state-based" cyber attacks. The attacks have been launched against a "range of sectors across all levels of government, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure," he said.

Morrison inferred that based on the scale and nature of the targeting and the tradecraft used, the attacks were carried out by a state actor. When asked if it was China, he said that the government would not make any "public attribution".

 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Reuters

Australia's federal government agencies believe that China is behind the ongoing cyberattacks, ABCreported. Peter Jennings, the Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that when one wants to determine which country is responsible for the attacks, along with capability, one also needs to look at interest and intent. Both Russia and North Korea have the capability, but "neither of them have an interest on the scale of this".

That led him to conclude that the country that has the interest to go to such an extent "with the sophistication and the size of the intelligence establishment to do it, is China", The Australian reported. Although Morrison didn't name China, when pressed hard, he said: "There aren't too many state-based actors who have those capabilities".

He urged businesses, especially health, infrastructure and service providers, to improve their cyber defenses. He added that several hacking attempts had been thwarted, but it requires "constant persistence and application". He raised the issue not to cause "concerns in the public's mind, but to raise awareness in the public's mind", he said.

Current State of Australia-China Relations

Relations between the two countries have been tense in recent years and have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. When Australia joined the U.S.A. in calling for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, China reacted by imposing tariffs on Australian barley and stopped beef imports.

It further warned Chinese students and travelers on the "risks" of traveling to Australia for tourism or education. Australia hit back last week when Morrison said that he would not give in to "coercion" from Beijing.