Intelligence officials reportedly believe China may be behind the hacking theft of personal data from the Australian National University, due to the scale of the breach.

Nearly 20 years’ worth of personal data from staff, students and visitors was stolen in the hacking, including names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, personal emails and passport details.

The university’s systems were accessed in late 2018, but the institution only realised the breach two weeks ago.

China is one of the only countries capable of undertaking such a breach while remaining undetected, intelligence sources told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday.

“China probably knows more about the ANU’s computer system than the ANU does,” one source said.

It’s feared the data could be used to target students with the aim of using them as informants, particularly if they embark on careers in government departments and intelligence agencies.

Another source told the news outlets China may have learnt hacking from other “sophisticated” nations such as Russia.

However, it’s understood there is no clear evidence that China is behind the attack.

The hacking did not affect credit card details, travel information, medical records, police checks, workers’ compensation, vehicle registration numbers and some performance records stored by the university.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre is working with the university to secure networks, protect users and investigate the extent of the breach.