July 16, 2024

The UK government has accused China of two malicious cyberattacks against the country’s democratic institutions and members of Parliament.

Specifically, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has found that a Chinesestate-affiliated cyber actor, nicknamed Advanced Persistent Threat Group 31 (APT31), was almost certainly responsible for online reconnaissance activity in 2021, targeting the email accounts of MPs.

The NCSC also deemed it highly likely that China state-backed actors were behind the data breach at the UK Electoral Commission between 2021 and 2022.

Paul Chichester, Director of Operations at the agency, characterised these activities as “indicative of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour” from Beijing.

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The government itself said that these behaviours were “part of [a] large-scale espionage campaign.”

The UK has now sanctioned a front company and two members of APT31. It’s also summoned the Chinese ambassador.

Accusations against China keep amassing

The UK doesn’t stand alone in linking cyber espionage to the Chinese state. Similar claims have been made by the US, where the FBI announced that the same two Chinese individuals identified by the UK had been part of a hacking attack and were currently facing criminal charges.

Today, the government of New Zealand also came forward to accuse China of a cyberattack against the Parliament in 2021.

For its part, China has denied the allegations, claiming they constitute “political manoeuvring.”

“It is pure political manoeuvring for the United States and the United Kingdom to rehash the so-called cyberattacks carried out by China and to sanction Chinese individuals and entities,” said Lin Jian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, during a press briefing.

In the meantime, ahead of the upcoming elections in the UK, increased anti-cyberattack measures alongside tools to help protect the public and the democratic processes are of critical importance.

“With an election looming this year, this attack puts a great deal of pressure on the government to show the UK public that voting remains safe and can’t be tampered with,” said Jake Moore, Global Cybersecurity Advisor at ESET.

Moore calls on the government to improve its cybersecurity defences, cautioning on the relentless nature of hostile state attacks.

“Most data compromising cyberattacks target and steal personal information but hostile state attacks are often more motivated by showcasing their threatening behaviour and highlighting what they can potentially achieve.”

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