The Australian National University suffered a major, sophisticated attack

Pierluigi Paganini June 05, 2019

The Australian National University suffered a vast hack carried out by a “sophisticated operator” who gained access to 19 years of sensitive data.

The Australian National University was the victim of a vast hack carried out by a “sophisticated operator” who gained access to 19 years of sensitive data.

The top Australian university is known for its intense collaboration with Australia’s government and the national security services.

The university has estimated that over 200,000 people have been affected by the security breach. Vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt sent a message to the staff and students to notify them of the incident, he explained that threat actors illegally accessed the university’s systems in late 2018.

“We believe there was unauthorised access to significant amounts of personal staff, student and visitor data extending back 19 years,” Schmidt said. “We have no evidence that research work has been affected,”

“In late 2018, a sophisticated operator accessed our systems illegally. We detected the breach two weeks ago,”

Schmidt also added that exposed data included names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, personal email addresses and emergency contact details, tax file numbers, payroll information, bank account details, passport details, and student academic records.

Financial data, medical records, police checks, workers’ compensation, vehicle registration numbers have not been affected.

The Australian National University reported the incident to the authorities and it partners and is currently investigating the attack with their support.

“We’re working closely with Australian government security agencies and industry security partners to investigate further.” added Schmidt.

“The University has taken immediate precautions to further strengthen our IT security and is working continuously to build on these precautions to reduce the risk of future intrusion.”

Universities are a privileged target for hackers, especially nation-state actors interested in spying on advanced research projects.

In June 2018, Chinese hackers breached into the systems of the Australian National University (ANU) and according to the experts they remained in its infrastructure also after the discovery of the intrusion.

This time the authorities haven’t attributed the intrusion to a specific actor, but the events suggest the involvement of a sophisticated cyberespionage group.

Australian entities were hit by several major attacks in the last years, in February, hackers broke into Australia’s Parliament Computer Network and this is just the last hack in order of time.

in October 2016 a report published by the Australian Cyber Security Centre confirmed the Australian Bureau of Meteorology hack was powered by foreign cyber spies.

In December 2015 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) revealed that a supercomputer operated by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) was hit by a cyber attack. The Bureau of Meteorology is Australia’s national weather, climate, and water agency, it is the analog of the USA’s National Weather Service.

The supercomputer of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology targeted by the hackers is also used to provide weather data to defense agencies, its disclosure could give a significant advantage to a persistent attacker for numerous reasons.

Initial media reports blamed China for the cyber attack, in 2013 Chinese hackers were accused by authorities of stealing the top-secret documents and projects of Australia’s new intelligence agency headquarters.

Is China behid the last attack on the Australian National University?

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Australian National University, hacking)

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