Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie has revealed that the Morrison Government was forced to cut access to IT and emails at Parliament House to protect against an incoming cyber attack related to an external provider.
The major outage started around midday on Saturday with limited and in some cases no access to IT or mobile devices for over 30 hours.
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It follows a major outage at Nine Entertainment Co that is being investigated as a potential cyber attack.
“The issue relates to an external provider, and once the issue was detected the connection to government systems was cut immediately as a precaution,” Mr Hastie said.
“The Australian Cyber Security Centre has been in contact with DPS and is providing support and continuing to monitor the situation.
“This is a timely reminder that Australians cannot be complacent about their cyber security. Cyber security is a team effort and a shared responsibility. It is vital that Australian businesses and organisations are alert to this threat and take the necessary steps to ensure our digital sovereignty.
“The government acted quickly, and we have the best minds in the world working to ensure Australia remains the most secure place to operate online.”
Government sources told news.com.au there were fears Australia’s parliamentary IT system is under attack from a foreign actor – which could include China.
News.com.au has contacted spy agency the Australian Signals Directorate and the Department of Parliamentary Services for comment.
“DPS is also working to investigate the cause of the disruption and the Australian Cyber Security Centre is providing advice as part of process,’’ a DPS spokesperson said.
In an email to parliamentary staff on Sunday, the Department of Parliamentary Services has confirmed the matter is being urgently investigated.
“An ICT outage is currently affecting various ICT services including email, calendar and contacts on smartphones and tablets,’’ the statement said.
“Email, calendar events and contacts that are already stored on your devices should remain accessible.
“Support teams are currently investigating.”
Labor’s home affairs spokesman Kristina Keneally confirmed that Labor was seeking an urgent briefing on the matter.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. We are seeking a briefing from the Government on the issue.”
It follows a major attack on Nine Entertainment Co over the weekend which has sought the assistance of the Australian Signals Directorate after it was hit on Sunday morning taking programs off air.
All parliamentary staff were also sent an email on Sunday night warning of a potential messaging scam that hit senior ministers including Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.
It’s not clear if the parliamentary outage and the messaging scam are related.
“The AFP is aware of a messaging scam currently targeting Commonwealth Parliamentarians and Australian High Office Holders, which presents as a request from a trusted colleague,’ the advice states.
“The scam originates over WhatsApp and asks recipients to download the Telegram application for the purposes of further communication. The message also asks for the recipient to forward the Two Factor Authentication (2FA) codes to the sender. Doing this will allow the sender to ‘take over’ the Telegram account.
“The request is not genuine and may be used as an attempt to obtain information from you or your phone.
“If you receive a message claiming to be from an associate which asks you to download a new messaging platform – for example – the Telegram application – do not download it.
“The AFP advises that if potentially compromised messages are received, the recipients are requested to do the following:
– Do not respond to the message.
– Do not send any 2FA or other authentication codes to the sender.
– Send a screen shot of the message to the AFP contact point outlining the time/date received.
– Retain the original message on the device for possible subsequent AFP technical analysis and evidence.