HomeAttacks on U.S.U.S. and U.K. Formally Accuse China of "Malicious" Cyber Campaigns

U.S. and U.K. Formally Accuse China of “Malicious” Cyber Campaigns

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The British government has formally accused China of orchestrating what it describes as “malicious” cyber campaigns. Specifically, these efforts were directed against Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Electoral Commission, aiming to illicitly access sensitive information. Among the information targeted were details of MPs critical of Beijing’s policies, as well as data that could potentially affect 40 million voters. These individuals are accused of perpetrating state-backed cyber-espionage campaigns targeting a range of political figures, dissidents, and democratic institutions.

This action by the West marks a critical juncture in the effort to confront and mitigate the cyber threats emanating from China, which have grown both in sophistication and scope. This accusation comes in the wake of a cyber attack on the Electoral Commission, characterized as one of the most significant in the nation’s history. Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has been vocal about these concerns, stating, “The UK will not tolerate malicious cyber activity. It is an absolute priority for the UK government to protect our democratic system and values.”

In response to these cyber-attacks, the UK has levied sanctions against two Chinese nationals, Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, and one entity, Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd. These sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, aim to curtail the operations of those linked to the China state-affiliated cyber espionage group Advanced Persistent Threat Group 31 (APT31). The Chinese embassy in the UK, however, has rebuffed these claims as “completely unfounded” and “malicious slander,” asserting that the UK’s actions amount to political manipulation.

Across the Atlantic, the United States has paralleled the UK’s stance by announcing criminal charges against a group of seven individuals, including the same two Chinese nationals sanctioned by the UK. These charges, filed in New York, accuse the individuals of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and wire fraud, stemming from cyber operations that “threatened the national security of the United States and our allies.” According to the US Attorney’s Office, these operations were part of a broader effort that spanned roughly 14 years, targeting critics of Beijing both within the United States and globally.

In response to the cyber-attacks attributed to Chinese hackers, the United Kingdom has imposed sanctions targeting individuals and entities associated with these nefarious activities. Specifically, the UK government has sanctioned two Chinese nationals, Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, along with a company, Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd, which is alleged to work for the China state-affiliated cyber espionage group Advanced Persistent Threat Group 31 (APT31). These sanctions are comprehensive, entailing the freezing of assets, which bars UK citizens and businesses from dealing with their funds or resources. Moreover, a travel ban has been implemented to prevent these individuals from entering or remaining in the UK. Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden emphasized the UK’s stance against such cyber intrusions, stating, “The UK will not tolerate malicious cyber activity,” highlighting the government’s commitment to protecting the nation’s democratic system and values against external cyber threats.

This concerted action by the UK and US underscores a broader international effort to address and combat state-sponsored cyber-espionage. New Zealand, while not introducing sanctions, has condemned similar cyber activities attributed to China, particularly targeting its parliamentary network. Australia, too, has voiced its concern over the persistent targeting of democratic institutions and processes.

These developments represent not just a response to specific cyber-attacks but also a broader recognition of the challenges posed by state-backed cyber operations. The accusations and subsequent sanctions reflect an escalating diplomatic tension between China and Western nations, marking a significant shift from previous periods of engagement and cooperation. As Deputy Prime Minister Dowden highlighted, summoning the Chinese ambassador to account for China’s conduct underscores the seriousness with which the UK views these incidents.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a vocal critic of Beijing’s policies and one of the MPs targeted, has called for a more robust response, designating China “a threat.” Echoing this sentiment, Labour has expressed its support for the government’s efforts to counter state actors attempting to “interfere with or undermine the electoral process.”

The sanctions apply to the individuals and the company, but this is a miniscule portion of China’s cyber capability. Defense of the infrastructure of the U.S. and the U.K will be a tough long haul. In the meantime, China has enough access to cripple our power grid, contaminate our water, interrupt transportation, and of course, let loose deadly viruses (as demonstrated with Covid 19, remember?). Free societies are especially susceptible to this kind of terror.

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