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Tech and Science

The US and UK accuse China-linked hackers of “malicious” cyber campaigns against politicians

LONDON – The United States and the United Kingdom on Monday accused hackers linked to the Chinese state of being behind “malicious” cyber campaigns against political figures, in a move expected to increase tensions with Beijing.

The British government also claimed that hackers linked to China were behind an attack that accessed the data of millions of voters.

“I can confirm today that Chinese state-affiliated actors were responsible for two malicious cyber campaigns targeting our democratic institutions and parliamentarians,” British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said in a speech to Parliament on Monday.

Dowden attributed a hacking attack on the Electoral Commission, the independent body charged with setting standards for the conduct of elections in the United Kingdom, to an actor linked to the Chinese state. The campaigns are said to have taken place between 2021 and 2022.

The attack was identified by the Electoral Commission in October 2022 but was only disclosed last year. Hackers accessed the names and addresses of all voters registered in Britain between 2014 and 2022, the Electoral Commission said in a statement 2023 public announcement.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the UK said the claims that China was behind cyberattacks in the UK were “completely fabricated and malicious slanders”.

“We strongly reject such allegations,” the Chinese embassy spokesman told reporters at a news conference on Monday. “China has always combated all forms of cyber attacks vigorously and in accordance with the law.”

“China does not promote, support or tolerate cyberattacks. At the same time, we oppose the politicization of cybersecurity issues and the baseless vilification of other countries without factual evidence.”

“A clear pattern”

Dowden said the United Kingdom believes China was behind an attempt to spy on British lawmakers’ email accounts in the summer of 2021. He accused the Chinese hacker group APT31 of being behind this attack.

Google-owned cybersecurity firm Mandiant describes APT31 as “a cyber espionage actor in the China nexus focused on obtaining information that can provide political, economic and military advantages to the Chinese government and state-owned companies.”

Dowden added that attempts to compromise British lawmakers’ email accounts were, however, “unsuccessful.”

“We now want to be as open as possible with the House of Representatives and the British public,” Dowden said. “This is the latest in a clear pattern of hostile activity originating in China.”

Dowden said the UK had sanctioned two people residing in China and a company linked to APT31.

The US strikes against China

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department on Monday unsealed an indictment accusing Chinese state-affiliated hackers of being behind cyber campaigns targeting U.S. companies, government officials and politicians.

The Justice Department has indicted seven Chinese nationals: Ni Gaobin; Weng Ming; Cheng Feng; Peng Yaowen; Sun Xiaohui; Xiong Wang; and Zhao Guangzong for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for participating in a China-based hacking group that targeted U.S. and foreign critics, corporations and political officials for 14 years.

These people acted as part of the hacker group APT31, the Justice Department said.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate any effort by the Chinese government to intimidate Americans who serve the public, silence dissidents protected by American laws, or steal from American companies,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement Monday Explanation.

“This case is a reminder of the goals the Chinese government is willing to pursue to target and intimidate its critics, including launching malicious cyber operations designed to threaten the national security of the United States and our allies Garland added.

Geopolitical tensions

The announcements from Great Britain and the USA are likely to draw the ire of Beijing.

Relations between Britain and China have deteriorated over the years, particularly in the technology sector, after the British government took measures to curb national security risks posed by Chinese technology companies.

“The impact of such a breach on U.K.-China relations could be profound,” Javvad Malik, lead security awareness advocate at cybersecurity firm KnowBe4, told CNBC by email on Monday.

“It is likely that tensions will escalate, leading to diplomatic tensions and possibly retaliation in the cyber domain or other areas of bilateral cooperation.”

Malik added that the situation “requires a decisive response, not only in terms of securing compromised systems and preventing further breaches, but also in terms of strengthening the international legal and norms-based systems that govern the behavior of states in cyberspace .”

“To mitigate the consequences and prevent future incidents, it is critical for nations to invest in stronger cybersecurity defenses, international cooperation and the development of capabilities to deter adversaries in the cyberspace domain,” he said.

Some hawkish lawmakers have pressured the British government to take tougher measures against China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-border group of lawmakers seeking China policy reform, said in a post on the social media platform Facing harassment, identity theft and hacking attempts from China.”

“We take this opportunity to emphasize that our discomfort, while extremely unwelcome, pales in comparison to Chinese dissidents who are risking their lives to oppose the Chinese Communist Party. It is high time they received greater support for their host governments,” the group said.

In 2020, for example, the British government banned Huawei telecommunications equipment on its 5G mobile network, citing espionage concerns. Huawei, for its part, denies the allegations and says it will not work with China to spy on Western communications.

Relations between the US and China were also under significant pressure. US lawmakers recently passed a controversial bill that could lead to TikTok being blocked in the US if it doesn’t break with its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

If the bill becomes law, TikTok would have a little less than six months to separate from ByteDance or be banned from apps and web hosting sites in the United States

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