Thursday, June 23, 2022

Who was behind the computer hacking of the Australian-Chinese community?


Written by: (Contributed) on 24 June 2022

The mass hacking of a website used by Chinese-Australians within days of the recent federal election, may indicate continuing suspicion of overseas Chinese communities by the US and its agents of influence. 

Other related matters have a firm bearing upon the problem: they carry all the hallmarks of an organised conspiracy aimed at intelligence-gathering amongst Australia's largest ethnic minority who are an increasingly upwardly socially mobile group gaining considerable political influence

In early June the breaking of a major scandal about the hacking of tens of thousands of Chinese-Australians’ mobile phones has raised serious considerations about data security. In the early hours of 4 June, between 1am and 8am AEST, Australia's largest Chinese language platforms Media Today and their app Australia Today, were hacked, 'sparking concerns about possible data breaches'. (1)

Founded over a decade ago, Media Today has provided business news, advertising, third party payment facilities, logistics and moving, travel information and other items of interest for Chinese-Australians. It has been noted that the media platform is largely supported by those from mainland China backgrounds. (2)

The hacking has raised two serious considerations: firstly, the present US-led regional Cold War, which has been largely directed toward China; secondly, recent studies which have revealed more than half Australians are not comfortable sharing their personal data with others in fear of 'the way their data is collected and shared on-line', which makes hacking a necessary option for those wanting to gather and use personal data. (3)  

The former consideration has raised serious issues. Multi-cultural Affairs Minister Andrew Giles, for example, has recently announced the new ALP federal government in Canberra will be introducing legislation restricting anti-Chinese discrimination due to 'the increased racism during the COVID-19 pandemic and … some of the strident language used by foreign policy hawks'. (4) He has also stated the new ALP administration would 'unveil a national anti-racism strategy in this term of parliament'. (5) There appears to be a sense of urgency driven by the widespread nature of the problem and the continued allegation that many Chinese-Australians are spies and cannot be trusted.

Data security has also become a major matter of concern for most Australians; from February, 2021, to March 2022, for example, Australia had the highest rate of app threats per device anywhere in the world. (6) It has been noted, furthermore, that 'nine out of ten people had no security software on their mobiles, making them an easy target … that mobile phone in your hand today … holds a treasure trove of information'. (7)

Returning to the Media Today hacking in early June, a number of matters arise which point the finger toward an organised conspiracy. It was clearly not a random hacking. The official media release from Media Today noted the cyber attack 'originated from IP addresses in the US, Canada and Hong Kong and was executed against the platform's registration system, attempting to use SMS verification codes to obtain user passwords and steal their accounts'. (8) It was also noted that 110,000 users will receive verification codes following the attackers making twenty million attempts to reset user passwords. (9)

The systematic nature of the hacking has revealed a common pattern which included recognition that most Australian SMS verification codes were composed of six digits; due to the large number of attempts made by the hacker it was 'possible to guess the correct verification code and thus steal the account', with relative ease. (10)

It is, however, the timing of the hacking which has thrown light on motives: there are 1.2 million Chinese-Australians, and they have tended to orientate toward business and higher-level professions, making them an influential ethnic minority. Studies by Media Today prior to the recent federal election in May, however, found that more than seventy per cent of the ethnic group had chosen to vote for the ALP and not the usual Liberal Party. (11)

Statements made by the Morrison coalition government that Labor 'was soft on national security', and, from Peter Dutton 'warning that Australia needed to prepare for war', together with allegations accusing deputy Labour leader Richard Marles of being a 'Manchurian Candidate', appear to have polarised opinion not only across the general electorate but inside the Chinese community, many of whom have families on the mainland. (12)  

In fact, the voting patterns of Chinese-Australians proved instrumental for the Liberal-coalition government of Scott Morrison experiencing dramatic defeat, with huge swings against them in some of their traditional strongholds. Seats including Chisholm, Kooyong, Bennelong and Reid were readily identified as seats lost by the Morrison government due to the large number of Chinese-Australians voting against them. (13)   

Those responsible for the hacking of the Media Today website and Australia Today app would appear to have been on an intelligence-gathering mission to mine data on Chinese-Australians. Following the federal election results there are few doubts why. Further information has also emerged about the problem of 'phishing', where Chinese-Australians have received numerous anonymous mobile phone calls following the hacking. (14)

The hacking reveals that the recent Australian federal election results have shaken those supporting US domination of Australia and US regional Cold War diplomatic positions toward China even despite Labor’s professions of support for the “US alliance” and AUKUS. It also reveals that the Chinese-Australian ethnic minority has become openly influential inside the political arena.

The location of the IP addresses identified as responsible for the hacking, however, are perhaps the most important factor for consideration, as they are incriminating: the US and Canada are both major players inside the elite intelligence-sharing Five Eyes, with direct links into the heartlands of Australian defence and security provision; Hong Kong is a major area of US-led foreign policy focus with their regional Cold War diplomatic position toward China. The trail of all three IP addresses would tend to lead to US involvement with the criminal hacking of the Chinese language Media Today platform and their Australia Today app.

Under such circumstances, an independent foreign policy for Australia is a sensible option!

1.     Cyber attack on Chinese platform, Australian, 9 June 2022.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Most Australians wary of sharing data, Australian, 2 June 2022.
4.     China people and party 'distinct', Australian, 17 June 2022.
5.     Ibid.
6.     We're world's worst for malicious app downloads, Australian, 16 June 2022.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Australian, op.cit., 9 June 2022.
9.     Ibid.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Ibid.
12.   Australian, op.cit., 17 June 2022.
13.   Australian, op.cit., 9 june 2022.
14.   Ibid.

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