Leaked database indicates Chinese intelligence has probed senior Australian politicians

The families of Australian politicians have been the target of open-source surveillance by a Chinese company that claims to have done work on behalf of Chinese intelligence, cyber security experts claim.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News Australia, cyber security analysts Robert Potter and Chris Balding have detailed the incredible scope of the espionage which they claim has targeted the most senior politicians in Australia.

The men claim a leaked database from a company called Shenzen Zhenhua Data indicates an intelligence assessment was carried out on the children or spouses of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Ambassador in Washington, Joe Hockey, current Ambassador, Arthur Sinodinos and Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Andrew Hastie.

The company alleged to have produced the database - Shenzen Zhenhua Data – has ties to Chinese intelligence.

Mr Balding – a professor at Fulbright University - said his international group of cyber-security experts had gone to great lengths to verify the database over the past 18 months, including having the data analysed by some intelligence agencies globally.

“We’ve done extensive background research to basically vet the individuals, the data where this comes from, and so we feel very confident in saying that not only does the company claim to work with Chinese military, Chinese security and intelligence, but that we can actually track the individuals that have written this code, the individuals that own this company and who they are connected to, who sites on the board of directors and that, yes they do actually in fact either work for the PLA or the Ministry of State Security,” he said.

“This information is being used by the Chinese state to try and target influence operations or intelligence operations around the world.”

In total, 2.4 million people and 650,000 organisations have been the target of the open-source surveillance activities, according to the leaked files, some of which have been seen by Sky News Australia and The Australian.

Some of the big names featured in the Shenzen Zhenhua database include US President Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and her entire family including her brother Thomas and her children Alexandra and Paul, along with Shinzo Abe, Vladimir Putin and his children.

There are also members of the British Royal Family and high-profile journalists.

A Chinese activist whistle-blower copied the database and leaked it to an international group of cyber-security analysts 18 months ago.

The homepage of the system is titled, “The Internet Big Data Military Intelligence System.”

Publications in Italy, Germany, UK, Canada, US, Japan, India and Australia, including the AFR, have been shared the data in recent months.

Mr Potter added: “We put together a team of people, people like myself from defence backgrounds, former intelligence officers, current intelligence, current intelligence officers and we pulled our resources together.”

Mr Potter, who has recently done cyber defence work for the US State Department in Washington through his company Internet 2.0, said Shenzen Zhenhua Data was gathering data globally and sending it back to a server in China, with the intelligence split into different databases that included ship-tracking to military and defence officials, intellectual property and patent databases, professors of universities and decision makers in politics.

“I would suggest that every person who has a profile in this database has probably been the victim of a pretty extensive breach of their privacy, not just in terms of the level of scraping that has occurred form the open source, collating that into a profile rendered in another country, taken from platforms where they didn’t really consent to this information being shared in that way,” he said.

“I think most people who sit in senior roles in government would expect a degree of intelligence activity, they probably wouldn’t expect it to come from the privacy sector.

Image: AP