Reports are pointing to Chinese-based hackers as being responsible for the unauthorized access of computers belonging to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and as many as ten government ministries.
The intrusions occurred in spite of recent efforts by the Australian government to shore up network defenses.
"Today, we see constant attempts by cyber means to steal the nation's secrets, as well as information vital to the effective operation of critical national industries and infrastructure, not to mention commercial intelligence and criminal fraud," said the director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, David Irvine.
"The cyber world will be a principal mechanism of warfare in the 21st century [and] has the potential to reduce the conventional and nuclear weapons advantage of a country," Irvine stated.
The news follows a number of recent reports linking Chinese hackers to a multitude of operations directed at government and private enterprise targets. Recent events include:
"Adversaries using pernicious methodologies are targeting the data of globally strategic industries. Business as usual based on risk based methodologies have to be supplanted by an urgent revamping of security deployments to counter a frightening new level of threat," cyber security expert Richard Stiennon recently wrote.
"The pattern indicates that China engages in focused projects that target particular industries or governments."