​Australia to work with China on cybersecurity

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to enhanced cybersecurity cooperation with China.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has announced it has agreed to enhanced cybersecurity cooperation with China, following discussions between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs Meng Jianzhu.

During the discussions held last week in Sydney, Australia and China agreed that neither country would conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage.

Both countries also agreed to act in accordance with the reports of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on cyber, including the norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace identified by those reports, a statement from Turnbull said.

In addition, the two countries agreed to establish a "mechanism" to discuss cybersecurity and cyber crime issues, in a bid to prevent cyber incidents that could create problems between Australia and China.

The cyber cooperation arrangement follows a meeting between Turnbull and Premier Li Keqiang during the latter's visit to Australia in March, which raised cyber-enabled intellectual property theft issues.

The March meetings included the establishment of a memorandum of understanding on intellectual property that was signed between the State Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China and IP Australia.

"This new agreement deepens the existing cooperation between Australia and China on intellectual property matters and supports the role of our newly created IP Counsellor to China," Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos said of the initiative last month.

"It will enrich the bilateral relationship, help us provide guidance on the IP systems in both countries, and assist Australian businesses to better navigate the Chinese IP system."

The pact announced on Monday is similar to one China arranged with the United States in September 2015 that saw former US president Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping establish "a high-level joint dialogue mechanism on fighting cybercrime and related issues".

On behalf of their respective nations, Xi and Obama said at the time they would also establish "a hotline for the escalation of issues that may arise" while responding to requests for cooperation in investigations of cyber incidents. The pair agreed to hold meetings of the joint dialogue twice a year.

"The United States and China agree that neither country's government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors," the White House said previously.

"Both sides are committed to making common effort to further identify and promote appropriate norms of state behaviour in cyberspace within the international community."

Less than a month after the agreement, cloud security firm CrowdStrike said that China was continuing to attempt to breach US companies.

"Over the last three weeks, CrowdStrike Falcon platform has detected and prevented a number of intrusions into our customers' systems from actors we have affiliated with the Chinese government," Crowdstrike co-founder and CTO Dmitri Alperovitch said in a blog post in October 2015.

"The very first intrusion conducted by China-affiliated actors after the joint Xi-Obama announcement at the White House took place the very next day -- Saturday, September 26. We detected and stopped the actors, so no exfiltration of customer data actually took place, but the very fact that these attempts occurred highlights the need to remain vigilant despite the newly minted cyber agreement."

Early last year, Turnbull announced a similar arrangement with Obama that sees the two nations hold an annual Australia-US Cyber Security Dialogue aimed at building on the already close cyber-cooperation both countries have.

The annual dialogue is jointly convened by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and is expected to engage senior representatives from both countries' business, academic, and government sectors to discuss common cyber threats, promote cybersecurity innovation, and shape new business opportunities.

Xi was previously quoted as saying he believes countries should not interfere in the internal affairs of others and that internet sovereignty should be in the hands of each individual nation. He said that cyberspace must not become a "battlefield" between states, and called for greater cooperation on punishing cyber attacks and fighting terrorism.

"We should respect every country's own choice of their internet development path and management model, their internet public policy, and the right to participate in managing international cyberspace," Xi said at the time. "There should be no cyber-hegemony, no interfering in others' internal affairs, no engaging, supporting, or inciting cyber activities that would harm the national security of other countries."

The Australian government also signed a formal "Dialogue on Innovation" agreement with China in March that will see both countries exchange ideas between government representatives, business, and the research sector.

Under the arrangement, both countries will contribute up to AU$6 million over three years to the next round of the Joint Research Centres, under the Australia-China Science and Research Fund (ACSRF), which supports strategic science, technology, and innovation collaboration considered of mutual benefit to both countries.

It is expected the funding will focus mainly on advanced manufacturing, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, and resources and energy.

It has previously been alleged that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) had experienced a data breach at the hands of Chinese attackers in late 2015.

Queenstown, New Zealand is playing host to its own cyber-focused meeting of the minds, with a "highly secretive" gathering of top spy chiefs visiting the country.

Local media has reported that FBI director James Comey and CIA director Mike Pompeo are among those believed to be attending the meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence network.

Editorial standards