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Australian Cyber Security Centre chief Alastair MacGibbon. Australian Cyber Security Centre chief Alastair MacGibbon. YouTube Featured

The head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Alastair MacGibbon, says it is impossible to say where the breach of systems at the Australian National University originated.

He told  The Australian on Sunday that it was "really hard" to attribute things online and "I’m not trying to be evasive".

On Friday, the Nine News TV channel claimed that the ANU's systems had been "utterly compromised" by Chinese attackers.

Fairfax Media had a bob each way, claiming that China-based hackers had been responsible for the attack, while at the same time acknowledging that "proving this may be difficult because hackers typically aim to hide their tracks".

MacGibbon said that it was as yet unknown as to what the attackers had pilfered, talking around the topic without directly addressing it.

The ANU itself played down the breach, saying in a couple of tweets: " The University has been working in partnership with Australian Government agencies for several months to minimise the impact of this threat.

"Current assessments indicate no staff, student or research information has been taken and counter-measures are being undertaken."

In response to a query by iTWire, an ANU spokesperson said: "We have not sent any media release about this, we have only issued a statement to outlets who have asked. We also published this statement on Twitter."

The claims about the attack come in the wake of reports for at least the last six months that ties between Australia and China are under serious strain.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will soon have to announce a decision on whether to allow Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to play a role in the rollout of 5G networks in the country. The US has strongly pushed Turnbull to leave the company out in the cold.

On Friday, Huawei won a contract to build and maintain digital radio services that would provide voice and data services across the rail network in Perth.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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