Australia’s block of Huawei is part of wider concern

(Reuters) – Australia’s decision to block Huawei from bidding for work on its $38 billion national broadband network has less to do with the Chinese telecoms firm itself and more to do with a growing concern that foreign countries – particularly China – are stealing the country’s governmental and commercial secrets via the Internet, security analysts and researchers said. Australia has blocked Huawei from bidding on the national network – one of the world’s largest such infrastructure projects, which is expected to run high-speed Internet cables to all but the remotest of Australian homes – citing security concerns. It has not detailed what those concerns are.

Alastair MacGibbon, who directed Australia’s High Tech Crime Centre before setting up the Centre for Internet Safety, said that while he had nothing against Huawei, he welcomed the decision because it showed the government was putting security over cost – and the possible diplomatic fallout from Australia’s largest trading partner.

“A decision like this would have been made at a very high level and they would take into account the consequences, which probably aren’t insignificant,” he said.

“You would have to imagine that was a pretty big security concern.”

Government officials have declined to detail what those concerns are, but have said they originated from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which has become increasingly voluble about the problem of Internet-based espionage from what it calls state-sponsored actors.

In its latest annual report to parliament it said: “Espionage by cyber means – one aspect of the larger threat – is emerging as a serious and widespread concern that will continue to gain prominence given Australia’s increasing reliance on technology in commercial, government and military business.”

Although it has not mentioned China by name, MacGibbon and others said it’s understood that most of the threats emanate from there. Casey Ellis, a Sydney-based security specialist, said incident response teams “were very busy and a lot of the corporate stuff they deal with appears to have links to China.”

Indeed, in 2010 three major resource sector companies, BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals and Rio Tinto were targeted, and last year parliamentary e-mail accounts were hacked, including those of three ministers. Researchers say there are probably many more such attacks that either go unnoticed or the companies affected are reluctant to publicize.

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