Unidentified hackers who gained access to internal servers of Australian National University and stole personal data belonging to staff, visitors, and students dating back 19 years were possibly sponsored by the Chinese government, The Sydney Morning Herald has learned.
Earlier this week, the Australian National University announced that unidentified hackers gained access to internal systems that stored vast amounts of personal data belonging to staff, visitors, and students.
Data compromised by the breach included names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, emergency contact details, tax file numbers, payroll information, bank account details, student academic records, and student academic transcripts dating back nineteen years.
Fortunately, internal systems that stored other details such as credit cards, travel arrangements, police history checks, workers' compensation, some performance development records, and medical records were not targeted by hackers.
Chinese agencies want to groom young students as informants
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the hackers who breached the university's internal systems were possibly sponsored by the Chinese government with an intent to recruit and groom promising students as informants before they join Australia's public service institutions.
Quoting unnamed intelligence officials, the paper revealed that the scale of the breach had alarmed senior intelligence officials and it could possibly have "widespread ramifications for other Australian universities".
A large number of ANU alumni are presently serving in Australia's public service institutions such as the Defence Department, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and other organisations and by recruiting promising students before they join the public service, China hopes to gain crucial information about the workings of such institutions in future.
The newspaper also quoted authorities to state that the intrusion of ANU's internal servers "is almost certainly a foreign government rather than a criminal group or politically motivated hackers" and that "China was one of only a handful of countries able to carry out such a breach while remaining undetected".
"China probably knows more about the ANU's computer system than the ANU does," an intelligence official told The Sydney Morning Herald which warned that information obtained from ANU's internal systems in the past few months could be leveraged by Chinese agencies to use personal vulnerabilities of young students as tools of blackmail in an attempt to groom them as informants.
In July last year, ABC News had also reported that suspected Chinese hackers had managed to gain access to internal systems of Australian National University but even though the university admitted that it was breached, it said that no staff, student or research information were compromised as a result of the intrusion.
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