back to article Australian Prime Minister runs private email server

Australia's newly minted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has admitted to running a private email server. Turnbull took over from incumbent Tony Abbott last month after a party room vote, becoming Australia's fifth prime minister in the span of five years. Previously communications minister, a role in which he credits himself …

  1. dan1980

    "Previously communications minister, a role in which he credits himself with having turned around Australia's national broadband network . . ."

    Indeed I do credit him with that - or at least give partial credit: he managed to take a forward-looking infrastructure plan, designed to create a network with provision for (and thereby enabling) growth in the future and he turned that right around. Thanks old boy.

    I agree with Malcolm that "not all government business requires security-controlled email", but that does not necessarily equate to there being no risk running a private e-mail service that you use for the less-sensitive government business.

    The problem with the argument is that running a private service with a recognisable address that you do use for at least some government business (regardless of security level) means that you instantly give e-mails sent from that account a certain level of credibility as coming from the Prime Minister of the the country more girt by sea than any other.

    And, once you have an account that has credibility as being operated by the Prime Minister, if the server hosting that account is broken into then that gives an attacker the ability to make statements carrying the influence of the Prime Minister - at least until the ruse is discovered.

    That might not seem overly problematic but just think of the recent stories of how one piece of false news can create rather large reactions in the share market. And it doesn't take an overly active imagination to think of the fall out if the account was hacked and used to send e-mails lacking the decorum usually expected of a Prime Minister. As with news affecting the share-market, such things are picked up lightning-quick and can spread a long way very quickly and do a lot of damage before anyone has the chance to get the damage control working.

    And, even once it's all sorted out and everyone accepts that the comments or announcements didn't come from the PM, there is still the lingering damage from the incident being allow to occur in the first place.

    1. Paul 129
      Childcatcher

      Not a fan of Mal's

      Yet, the NBN was a complete dog's breakfast, under Labor.

      The project was milked by some, and completely crucifying its contractors, only minor areas actually benefited although promised to everyone, $40B price, complete Bovine excrement!

      le standard Labor project.

      Its still an appalling disaster, but now its getting somewhere.

      I still fail to see the sense in nationalizing the land line network. Just because we F__ked it all up last time is no reason to repeat the process. Oh hang on... I'm forgetting the need to pay the cronies.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Not a fan of Mal's

        I agree that Labor messed up the project. BUT, they nailed the vision so far as I am concerned. Reports do show that implementation was improving and I do believe it would have continued to improve as the project went on.

        The budgeting and release of budgets and estimates was a complete, as you say, dog's breakfast.

        The Liberals really appear to simply be managing the information better but even if they are actually doing a better job implementing it, the network they are building is a poor cousin to what we could have had.

        There can be all kinds of debates about costs but when looks at the difference between and all-fibre network and a patchwork network of new old and new copper, coax and fibre, using old and new back-end equipment, one of those options is clearly, objectively, more future-proof and capable of providing better speeds.

        Again, the question of whether those higher speeds are really needed or cost-effective is another matter but a fibre network is just plain, form a technology standpoint.

        As for nationalising the network, I feel that there is a very important reason for this and that is because the geography of the country means we simply cannot rely on commercial interests to adequately service the nation as a whole. The simple fact is that a public utility can run at a significantly lower profit margin than a commercial company is able to accept and there is just no way that these commercial interests are going to provide fast connectivity at reasonable prices for those living in less profitable areas.

        Yes, it does mean that those of us in areas that are cheaper to service will end up subsidising those in the more remote and expensive areas but that is the very basis of a social democracy like ours - one that supplies health care and education to all.

        1. david 12

          Re: Not a fan of Mal's

          The "Vision" ??

          Are you still banging on about the vision in 2015?

          Their vision, however attractive, was complete BS, and any educated person should have recognised it immediately. Kim Beasley pitched the NBN as the centrepiece of their "infrastructure" policy. He justified spending public money on it to provide an economically beneficial infrastructure for education, industry, and tele-medicine.

          That was all BS, and if you weren't sucked in by the Optus and Telstra adds you had the example of Radio, Cinema, Tape, Television and VCR's to tell you so, each of which was pitched to the public on the same basis.

          Many people have now, belatedly, recognised that the actual use of the NBN is to replace Free-To-Air Television, and most critisizm of the NBN now is regarding if it will be suitable for Netflix.

          Many, many, many Australians were sold internet so that their kids could find out about the Great Wall of China (not to keep rabbits out, Dad). They were primed by the self-interested propaganda of the ISP's to believe that there as a rational benefit from the NBN. That was the "vision". That was the BS.

          1. dan1980

            Re: Not a fan of Mal's

            @David

            I mean 'vision' in its ordinary (metaphorical) sense: the plan, the aim, the end goal, etc . . .

            And, by that, I mean that the plan was to have fibre. To the premises. To the vast majority of premises.

            What ever anyone can or might say about implementation or budgets or costings or contracts or time frames, the outcome would have been to have a communications infrastructure that was using the best medium available. It would also have gone a very long way to dismantling the reliance on Telstra that has been the cause of so much pain in our existing situation*.

            People keep banging on about how it would have cost more and taken longer than it should due to bad management from the government. I'm not debating that and, indeed, I fully agree with that assessment. My problem is that that is almost to MO of governments and it is the fate of nearly all government projects and especially government infrastructure projects.

            So we know that it would be a mess but the result, once it arrived, would at least be something that was going to last, rather than being obsolete from day one, as is the case with so many IT projects implemented by the government.

            So far as the benefit to the economy and country goes, I can't say that I necessarily agree with any particular politician's claims but I can say that telecommunications is as essential to the economy as transport. We hear so frequently about how much congestion and traffic jams and accidents cost the 'economy' and, while I often think those figures are pulled out of a particularly vague hat, I see the point and I believe it extends to communications as well. How much is it costing the economy to force people to physically commute in (and thereby contribute to congestion) because they can't telecommute? Or how many businesses aren't able to expand because the canb't get good internet connectivity at a proposed branch location? (I have seen this quite a few times - it's not a hypothetical.)

            * - Like trying to get an Internet connection and being told that you can only get ADSL (1) because there are either no more ADSL 2 ports available or your local exchange is actually a MUX. I know someone who moved to rural NSW and there were no ports full stop. I would wager that anyone who suggests the current infrastructure is largely satisfactory has never had this happen to them. Or been subject to the dreadful reliability of using a service delivered through a sequence of bad splices and worse pits that cuts out whenever it rains more than a light shower.

  2. Crazy Operations Guy

    Just need an email from that server

    The SMTP headers will tell you exactly where that server is, since CloudFlare doesn't strip such things out of the headers (from the messages I've received from clients behind thier service, they use an SMTP relay that adds onto the header). While its unlikely that you could actually get to that IP address, it'll still tell you where its located (unless he went the route of getting an AS number, an IP block, and hosts it in location different than the address he registered with, but I doubt he'd spend $2500 a year just for a basic level of obfuscation).

    I'm starting to think that governments should start blocking emails form being sent to and received from non-government owned domains... Or at least require any emails on a private server to automatically BCC an address at a government domain.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Just need an email from that server

      Does Malcolm Turnbull know where his private email server is?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No MX Records?

    Unless I'm missing some cool obfuscation CloudFlare does, there are no MX records for malcolmturnbull.com.au, the the mail server isn't on that domain.

    1. Probie

      Re: No MX Records?

      I believe in the absence of an MX record it delivers to a A (RR) entry. Something like "aussiepmwithashortterm.au"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    no MX records any more... uh oh

    looks like ASIO is onto it...

  5. Christian Berger

    Considering that "professional" hosters don't exactly have any different tools...

    ... I'd say his server probably is save. I mean if he has a fixed IP-address to ssh into it, he can even just block the rest of the Internet. And e-mail servers are simple enough to probably not have any serious security problems. The worst that could happen in a DOS.... unless of course he uses a stupid password or something.

  6. Adam 1

    > Any hacker capable of sinking a tinnie of Fosters will be trying to crack it as you read

    I think some Aussies will have a crack at it as well.

    1. BasicChimpTheory

      Logged in to say similar. Have an upvote.

      1. rjmx
        Pirate

        Agreed. Any hacker who actually sinks a tinnie of Foster's deserves all they get.

        Most likely a conversation with the Big White Telephone.

    2. WolfFan Silver badge

      "Fosters: Australian for 'utter swill so foul not even a Kiwi will drink it'."

      1. kain preacher

        I can't believe Fosters is worse then Budweiser. Budweiser is American for most alcoholics won't drink it.

        1. BasicChimpTheory

          Speaking as someone who has been offered a Bud from a box on the kitchen floor in summer (as my host was drinking it) I can say this is completely false.

          The real difference between American and Australian mainstream beers is that at least Australian mainstream beers taste like something, even if that thing isn't great.

          US craft beers kick AU craft beers' dicks in.

          And they don't gush nine times out of ten...

          EDIT: beer-related typo

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Is the Fosters mandatory before having a crack at the mail server? That's the most effective security I've ever heard of.

  7. Denarius Silver badge
    FAIL

    competence aside

    at least he doesn't seem to think public serpents need to be in a central location so the messenger boys don't drop from exhaustion, unlike the previous incumbent who had not heard of that dot dash telegraphic thingie, let alone telephone or email.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    It's not illegal . . yet

    One break-in, one damning email sent from that server and we'll see how fast it gets shut down by public opinion and how quickly the law will be amended to ensure that only government servers under government authority are allowed to be used by government officials.

    I don't care how technically competent he may be. His job is to govern a country, not an email server. Unless he has people managing that server, which he will have to explain budgetarily, that server is a risk.

    But hey, have fun while it lasts. After all, what's the worst that can happen ? It's not like all the blackhats of the world know about it now, right ?

    Oh, wait . .

    1. Adrian Midgley 1

      Why does he need to explain a budget for

      hiring tech services to run his email?

      You want the details of his word processor? Maps? Cobblers?

      I expect he'll be busier now though, and have people offereing assistance with such trivia, and good luck to

      Him.

      Please don't encourage laws saying you can't run your email server and I can't and only a state licensed operator may do so and charge what they like, it isn't in any of our interests.

      him.

  9. Sirius Lee

    No MX record - really?

    Running nslookup -querytype=mx malcolmturnbull.com.au returns the address of a mail server for this domain on a cloudflare. Maybe you meant some *other* type of MX record? Or maybe you were just spouting nonsense.

    1. rjmx
      Boffin

      Re: No MX record - really?

      I don't think so. Note the "ANSWER: 0" bit:

      ~$ dig malcolmturnbull.com.au mx

      ; <<>> DiG 9.9.5-12-Debian <<>> malcolmturnbull.com.au mx

      ;; global options: +cmd

      ;; Got answer:

      ;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 65357

      ;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 1

      ;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:

      ; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4000

      ;; QUESTION SECTION:

      ;malcolmturnbull.com.au. IN MX

      ;; AUTHORITY SECTION:

      malcolmturnbull.com.au. 900 IN SOA brenda.ns.cloudflare.com. dns.cloudflare.com. 2019221722 10000 2400 604800 3600

      ;; Query time: 120 msec

      ;; SERVER: xx.xx.xx.xx#53(xx.xx.xx.xx)

      ;; WHEN: Fri Oct 09 11:02:46 EDT 2015

      ;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 115

  10. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Off the record

    He also uses Confide and Wickr (IM apps which leave no history on the server).

    I suppose he was just trying them out...?

  11. tcc

    Without an MX record it falls back to...

    You can find this in Wikipedia:

    RFC 5321 sec. 5 states:

    SMTP clients must look up an MX record;

    if (and only if) no MX record for the domain is present, treat the domain as if it had an MX record with the given domain as the target hostname and a preference value of 0

    perform A or AAAA lookups as required to determine the IP address of the target hostname

  12. dalek

    Good on him!

    The more people that run their own email servers the better. Better for internet interoperability and to keep control from the big players (gmail, hotmail, outlook, yahoo etc)

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