Bugbear hits Australian parliament

The Australian government has had its workings interrupted for the second time by an attack of the Bugbear virus

The Bugbear virus is causing havoc for the second time in a month at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra, interrupting the government's operations and highlighting dangerous security flaws.

On Tuesday evening, the Department of Parliamentary Reporting staff circulated an email to all departments, members and their staff within the nation's foremost government building, asking that they turn their printers off until further advised.

"It seems that the Bugbear virus has reoccurred with Parliament House. This is being investigated and we hope to have a resolution very soon," explained the email, sent by Sue Ranford, assistant director -- client liaison, client services centre, an arm of the Department of Parliamentary Reporting Staff.

According to a source within Parliament House, the first outbreak occurred on 3 October, causing several printers to spew out pages of senseless text. The Australian Parliament runs a centralised computer network covering a range of departments and ministerial offices -- providing the virus with a wide range of entry points. The affected printers are used to send out the draft parliamentary Hansard reports known as the "greens" and "pinks", as well as providing for the printing requirements of each individual office.

While this Bugbear outbreak seems little more than a nuisance, it has highlighted serious security flaws in Parliament's information technology infrastructure, as the parliamentary network also contains politically sensitive information.

The outbreak comes just a day after the shadow minister for IT, Senator Kate Lundy, raised concerns during question time regarding the level of funding the government awards to IT security infrastructure.

Lundy quoted from a report prepared by Leif Gamertsfelder, the head of the e-security group at the national law firm, Deacons, which indicated the federal government spends just 32 cents (11p) per person on securing the nation's IT infrastructure, compared to US$28 (£18) spent by the US government.

"The amount of funding allocated is really only enough to establish committees and do some kind of reporting," Gamertsfelder said. "But one or two smaller projects would exhaust the funding entirely."

The offices for the minister for information technology, Senator Richard Alston, and the Department of Parliamentary Reporting Staff, which manages the parliament's computer network, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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