Who was really behind Nauru police hack?

A leak of internal emails within the Nauru Police Force pertaining to the offshore refugee processing centre could have been a deliberate hack to destabilise the Australian elections, and questions are being asked of a major political player in the Pacific.

The Herald Sun reported that China could be behind an attempt to influence the Australian federal election.

It was reported that computer security firm CyberCX, headed by former national cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon, published a 12-page investigation into the leak recently.

The report has been reviewed by Australian Federal Police.

It is believed that CyberCX researchers found “anomalies in the leaker’s activities that warrant skepticism about their motivations,” and experts had “high confidence” the leak did not come from the hacking group Anonymous, as had been claimed.

The leak of the emails has been seen as very timely as the Australia elections are this weekend and the leak happened on May 2.

More than 285,000 files from 126 email addresses leaked to a relatively untested whistleblower website, Enlace Hacktivista.

CyberCX researchers also found that the leaked emails came with a 954-word manifesto. It was found that 60 per cent of it was “copied verbatim from other sources” and did not refer to content from the leaked communications.

Nauru mining aerial
A leak of internal emails within the Nauru Police Force pertaining to the offshore refugee processing centre could have been a deliberate hack to destabilise the Australian elections. Source: Mongabay.

It was found that the manifesto discussed issues from October 2021 indicating that the hacker or hackers had prior information and awaited the most opportune and politically damaging moment to release the information.

However, the leaked internal emails revealed laxity and carelessness from police. The internal communication from Nauru Police Force also showed high rates and threats of self-harm among refugees and asylum seekers.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute former executive director Peter Jennings told the Herald Sun that there was a short list of nation states that could be behind the attack but China would be at the top of the list.

“With most major sophisticated hacks that we’ve seen in Australia, the first obvious suspect is going to be the People’s Republic of China,” he is reported as saying.

“My way of thinking about these things is it’s like a murder mystery — you have to look for a combination of means and motive and only China has the means and the motive to want to do damage to Australia in the context of an election campaign.”

Mr Jennings said the CyberCX report hinted at foreign interference by China, and an attempt to damage Australia’s reputation among Pacific Island nations.

CyberCX head Alastair MacGibbon. Picture: Twitter

He said this arose from the war of words after the China-Solomon Islands deal.

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“Nation-state actors have an established history of using hacktivist cover to influence public discourse about controversial and political events, including in election contexts,” the CyberCX report said.

“This heightens the need to expose all claimed hacktivist activity to objective scrutiny and to understand the motivations, and identities, of hack and leak threat actors.”

Western Australia’s parliamentary email system was hacked in March last year by suspected Chinese hackers, while the federal parliamentary email system was also disrupted in an online strike in the same month.

A foreign attacker also installed malware in the federal parliamentary email system in March 2019.

However, CyberCX said it had not identified a “direct” link to a foreign country.

The Nauruan government has been sent questions on the leaked emails and is yet to respond.

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