Fears over defence deal with China

The Department of Defence has renewed a deal with a Chinese-owned data storage company, sparking fears about Australia’s security.

The contract with Global Switch was renewed by the department despite a campaign to end the arrangement last year.

Global Switch has stored sensitive military files for the Australian Government for the past decade.

However, concerns were raised when a Chinese company bought a controlling stake in the British parent company four years ago.

In 2016, Global Switch’s parent company Aldersgate Investments sold to a data tech consortium owned by China.

The Defence Department’s contract with Global Switch was due to end in October 2020, however, it was revealed on Tuesday a new contract had been extended to 2025.

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The new contract, tendered to the federal parliament, cost $53.5 million — some $250,000 over the original quoted price.

The Department told the ABC it plans to migrate all its files off Global Switch within the next three to five years.

And in a statement from the secretary of the Department of Defence released on Thursday, it claimed there were protections in place to safeguard sensitive materials.

“Australians can be assured that Defence’s data is safe,” the secretary said.

“The safeguarding of Defence’s data is of the utmost priority for my Department. Defence has comprehensive security controls in place at the Global Switch Ultimo data centre to protect against compromise by a foreign power or other malicious actor.

“Control and access of the Defence data stored at Ultimo remains under full operational control of the Australian Government. All of the most sensitive data was removed from this facility in May 2020.

“The facility was designed with multiple layers of physical and cyber security controls. Physical security arrangements are accredited by relevant government agencies and include a 24/7 security presence, CCTV monitoring, sophisticated sensors and alarms and hardened physical infrastructure. The Defence Security Operations Centre provides 24/7 cyber security protection.”

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A spokesperson for Global Switch, Damon Reid, told news.com.au in a statement the company does not have direct access to its customer’s data.

“Global Switch has signed a long term renewal with the Department of Defence,” Mr Reid said.

“Across the many international markets in which we operate, Global Switch partners with governments and leading organisations to house their mission critical IT infrastructure. All our data centres provide our customers with world class reliability, security and flexibility.

“Global Switch has no access to any customer data, we simply build and operate high quality real estate with the right power, cooling and physical security so that our customers are able to focus on their core IT requirements.

“We believe multiple, highly credentialed data centre operators, including market leading international data centre operators, are needed to enhance competition and innovation as well as diversify risk in the Australian market.”

In 2016, then-Treasurer Scott Morrison ordered sensitive data at the Ultimo warehouse be removed from the premises until the contract with Global Switch concluded.

However, Mr Morrison said in Parliament on Tuesday the government had become more comfortable with the contract. He said the government’s more sensitive documents had been removed from Global Switch to a purpose-built facility.

Two Independent MPs, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie, have expressed concern about the renewed relationship. The MPs plan to debate the issue in federal parliament this week, the ABC reports.

The Australian Taxation Office and Australian Securities and Investments Commission meanwhile have begun the process of removing their own data from Global Switch.

Removing Defence Department documents from Global Switch facilities is estimated to cost approximately $200 million.


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