From Enda Curran and Rachel Pannett, the Wall Street Journal:  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Australia’s government and banks have become regular targets of cyber hackers , highlighting the country’s vulnerability to the growing number of hostile attacks on computer systems worldwide.

The warning from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of Brussels-based NATO, at a speech in Canberra Wednesday is the clearest indication any senior public official from the organization has given that hackers are trying to breach computer security at the highest levels of Australia’s government and within the nation’s key financial institutions.

Australian politicians have acknowledged the escalating threat from so-called cyber-weaponry, including from governments, but have stopped short of confirming attacks on any specific institutions.

"Your government departments and ministerial offices are regularly subjected to (cyber) attacks, and in recent months your financial institutions have been targeted as well," Mr. Rasmussen said in the speech, adding it was often very difficult to identify the source and that NATO itself was routinely attacked.

Australia’s defense minister Stephen Smith last week acknowledged that he and officials from his department took precautions to safeguard electronic communications ahead of a visit to China where he met senior military officials, but denied those measures were anything out of the ordinary.

Earlier this year, Australia blocked a Huawei Technologies Co. unit from tendering for contracts linked to the country’s new nationwide broadband Internet network, citing national-interest concerns amid speculation the Chinese company may pose a security risk.

In a sign of growing sensitivity to the cyber threat, Canberra recently established a Computer Emergency Response Team to help critical-infrastructure providers, and companies such as banks which operate systems vital to Australia’s national interest, protect sensitive data.   (graphic: infosecurity)