Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Cyber Attacks in Australia, was it pre-mediated before the coming General Election due to be held by May 2019? Is Thailand and Indonesia at risk of Pre-GE Cyber Attack?
The Australian Prime Minister on 18th February 2019 updated the House of Representatives that the computer services of Australia's major political parties have been hit by a cyber-attack saying the government believes a "sophisticated state actor" is responsible for the attack. Usual initial response for such attacks - no evidence of compromise or data stolen.
In early February 2019, it was reported that Australia's security agencies are investigating a cyber breach of the Federal Parliament's computer network.
Similarly as in the latest attack, this breach was attributed to a sophisticated state actor and the name China was openly discussed as the potential state actor. Again in this breach, in a statement by the Parliament's presiding officers was the usual initial response - authorities were yet to detect any evidence data had been stolen in the breach.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre had in February 2019 released a report on an investigation into an attack in early 2018 that saw 8 Australian web hosting providers compromised, allowing a malicious actor access to customer websites. The investigation revealed that the name of the creator of the virus was named by a US intelligence agency as widely used by Chinese and other state actors. This was the basis for which the allegation was made that the state actor purportedly could be China.
Back in 2013, China was also accused of hacking and stealing blueprints of domestic spy agency ASIO's new headquarters in Canberra, later denied by the Gillard government. In 2015, China was again blamed for attacking Australia's Bureau of Meteorology.
Within all these, little was known that in 1995, a news report revealed that Australia in a joint operation with the US, had covertly installed an elaborate system of fibre optic bugging devices to bug the newly constructed Chinese Embassy in Canberra during its construction in the late 1980s which accordingly had strained relations between the two nations back then.
Despite the revelation and allegations made two years ago that Russia had intervened in the US Presidential elections by hacking into the Democratic party, who was contesting against the Republican party, governments around the world are still 'tip toeing' around the danger and risks from cyber space on state actors manipulating and influencing their general elections.
Australia will be having their General Election no later than May 2019 - a mere 3 months from now. It is of no surprise that more and more breaches would be reported in the run up. Is it the fault of the government for the rise in breaches i.e., no attempts were made to improve their cyber resilience when they knew that other countries faced and experienced such breaches in the run up to their general elections before?
Similar to Australia, Thailand and Indonesia will be facing an election this year with Thailand holding a General Election to elect a government scheduled for end of March 2019 while the General Elections for Indonesia is scheduled for end of April 2019.
The US Presidential elections two years ago was conducted under a cloud where allegations were raised that Russia hacked and intervened in the election process. Since then 18 countries had their election process interfered with - some allegedly by outsiders and some by opponents to the incumbents and vice versa.
It is predicted that the General Elections in both Indonesia and Thailand would not be any different i.e., the fight would generally be determined by who controls the space known as the internet. Both are shaping up to be an interesting fight with some surprises thrown in the last one week. Internet penetration in both countries has increased substantially since both countries had their last general elections and apparently events that took place in Malaysia on 9th May 2018 provided great insights to the contenders and the incumbents in both countries on how to win the elections.
With the fight moving into cyberspace, there would be a lot of allegations raised as to attempts to influence the election process including phishing and intrusion attempts on the voters registration database. As it appears that it may be too late for the authorities in both countries to do a tabletop exercise i.e., run hypothetical worst-case scenario drills in preparation for potential cyber-attacks or other interference attempts as the elections would be held within the next two months, focus should be on inaccurate information being spread via social media. It is known and widely acknowledged that social media does play a significant role in influencing and shaping opinions in the run up to the elections in several countries around the world. Thus it would be interesting to see whether the electoral authority in both countries would track social media activity around the election and combat it.