Treasury says there were 'more than 2000' attempts to access Budget documents

2019-05-29 01:38:45

National Party leader Simon Bridges has doubled down over the Budget leak fiasco, accusing the finance minister of lying and ramping up the stakes in what has turned into a high-speed game of political chicken.

Accusations are flying and neither side is prepared to reveal what information they may hold, as to how the National Party came to be in possession of Budget documents, or whether it was related to an apparent attempt to hack Treasury this week.

But the Prime Minister has sought to distance the Government from the issue, suggesting the burden of responsibility lay squarely with Treasury.

Treasury has confirmed it was the target of a sustained cyber attack with more than 2000 attempts to access its system within 48 hours.

The matter has been referred to police, but it's still not clear whether those attempts were successful. On Tuesday night Finance Minister Grant Robertson released a statement suggesting the two events were related.

Appearing on Radio New Zealand on Wednesday, Treasury boss Gabriel Makhlouf did not accuse National of being responsible for the hack, but he did suggest the documents that were targeted, matched what National had released.

To further add to the confusion, a page on the Treasury website appears to have briefly had links to document titles matching the policy areas Bridges released details on.

This suggests they could have been publicly accessible, if only for a short period.

And in a press conference later on Wednesday, Bridges dug in, saying National had acted "entirely appropriately", and its information had not be obtained through hacking "or any definition of hacking".

He accused Robertson of engaging in a political "smear" on National to try to save face, and went so far as to say Robertson was lying.

"The reality is they are incredibly embarrassed, they are not in control of what they are doing, so they are lashing out and having a witch hunt on the National party," said Bridges.

Ardern said she did not agree with Bridges characterisation of her minister, "but ultimately this is a matter for Treasury".

"Ultimately this is a matter for the Treasury, they are the ones that hold the information around what essentially has happened in this situation; also the ones that made the decision over how they wish to handle it, and advised us in the aftermath of taking those decisions, so I see this ultimately as a matter for them. " she said.

"[Treasury] hold the information - they know ultimately what has happened here, we don't, they've made a decision on advice to refer it on to the police - that is entirely a matter for them and it has nothing to do with us."

Earlier in the day, Bridges was vehement National had acted "entirely appropriately the whole way through this matter".

"And I think the worst thing about all of this is that this is, in terms of what the Government is doing, is trying to gag the Opposition of New Zealand.

"That is an undemocratic outrage," said Bridges.

"There has been no hacking under any definition of that word. There has been nothing illegal or even approaching that at any time from the National Party."

While he was assured of his sources, Bridges would not reveal them to media. But he did say National would cooperate with any police investigation into a security breach at Treasury.

Makhlouf has described the attack as a "deliberate and systemic attempt to gain access," and appeared to target Budget-related documents. Makhlouf conceded Treasury's systems had "a weakness" and a review would be ordered.

"We discovered multiple and persistent attempts to gain access to our system, and specifically Budget related information, and that's when I decided to refer it to police," Makhlouf said.

He said that the system Treasury was using had an unknown weakness, but it was not one which broke immediately.

"Imagine you've got a room in which you've placed important documents that you feel are secure, that are bolted down under lock and key," Makhlouf said.

"But unknown to you one of those bolts has a weakness and someone who attacks that bolt, deliberately, persistently, repeatedly, and finds that it breaks and they can enter and access the papers.

"It wasn't a case of someone stumbling into the room accidentally, it wasn't an instance of someone attacking the bolt and finding it broke immediately.

"It was someone who tried not once, not twice, but in fact over 2000 times to attack that bolt.

"When I saw that evidence late afternoon, I decided it was something that I had to refer to police," Makhlouf said. The attacks took place in a little over 48 hours.

On Tuesday, the National Party released what it said were "key details" of Thursday's Budget. It has refused to say how it got the information, but has accused Treasury of incompetence.

Makhlouf said he was not accusing National of being behind the link. He was not even certain the information came from the Treasury.

He could not say whether the attacks had originated from within New Zealand or overseas.

"I expect the police to look into that and work it out themselves."

Makhlouf said he only learned of the attacks on Tuesday, after National began revealing information it had been given.

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