Were William and Harry hacked by China? Royals feared to be among victims after ‘China’ steals bank details from MoD

7 May 2024, 13:12 | Updated: 7 May 2024, 14:36

The Ministry of Defence has fallen victim to a cyber attack and there are fears the royals' details may have been compromised
The Ministry of Defence has fallen victim to a cyber attack and there are fears the royals' details may have been compromised. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Senior members of the royal family are feared to be among those targeted in a hack of the UK armed forces' payroll.

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The Ministry of Defence has been the target of a large-scale data breach, with reports that China is behind the cyber attack.

A third-party payroll system was hacked, potentially compromising the bank details of all serving armed forces personnel and some veterans. A very small number of addresses may also have been accessed.

LBC understands that members of the royal family could be among those whose data was compromised. LBC has approached Buckingham Palace to comment.

Read more: China accused of hacking personal details of every single member of the armed forces but Beijing dismisses ‘smear’

In a document seen by LBC, the Ministry of Defence warned those impacted by the hack that they were "investigating a compromise of an independent network system' and that the information could include service personnel's "name, Service Number, and bank details" as well as a " small number of personnel whose address is included as data on the system."

The MoD document said "the system concerned is used to transmit details to banks facilitating payments for Regular,Reserve, and Cadet Adult Volunteer force personnel," as well as it being possible "that some legacy data detailing the payment to those who left the Service" was included in the hack.

Prince Harry served in the Army for 10 years, undertaking two tours of Afghanistan and rising to the rank of captain. He undertook two operational tours of Afghanistan. The Prince of Wales has completed seven-and-a-half years of full-time military service.

The government has ordered a security review of the MoD contractor involved, but they are not speculating on who may have orchestrated the attack.

Anyone affected will be given access to specialist services and support to see if their details have been leaked online. No official numbers have been released but it is thought as many as 270,000 people could be affected.

Beijing has dismissed the claims as a "smear."

China's foreign ministry said it "firmly opposes and fights all forms of cyber attacks" and "rejects the use of this issue politically to smear other countries".

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the UK said: "The so-called cyber attacks by China against the UK are completely fabricated and malicious slanders.

"We strongly oppose such accusations. China has always firmly fought all forms of cyber attacks according to law.

"China does not encourage, support or condone cyber attacks. At the same time, we oppose the politicisation of cybersecurity issues and the baseless denigration of other countries without factual evidence.

"China has always upheld the principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs. China has neither the interest nor the need to meddle in the internal affairs of the UK.

"We urge the relevant parties in the UK to stop spreading false information, stop fabricating so-called China threat narratives, and stop their anti-China political farce."

One furious former airman told LBC: “I trust China with my bank details more than I trust the MoD."

He said it was “typical” that they had “wasted money” on third party systems that could be targeted in this way.

"I'm still waiting for information as I'm unsure what to do. I'm really worried, communication has been terrible."

The Ministry of Defence took immediate action when it discovered the breach, taking the external network - operated by a contractor - offline.

Chinese hackers are suspected to be behind the major data breach
Chinese hackers are suspected to be behind the major data breach. Picture: Alamy

It is understood that initial investigations have found no evidence that data has been removed.

But affected service personnel will be alerted as a precaution and provided with specialist advice. They will be able to use a personal data protection service to check whether their information is being used or an attempt is being made to use it.

All salaries were paid at the last payday, with no issues expected at the next one at the end of this month, although there may be a slight delay in the payment of expenses in a small number of cases.

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The Government will inform MPs of the breach when Parliament returns on Tuesday, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps expected to make a Commons statement in the afternoon.

Ministers will blame hostile and malign actors, but will not name the country behind the hacking.

The MoD has been working at speed to uncover the scale of the attack since it was discovered several days ago.

The revelation comes after the UK and the United States in March accused China of a global campaign of "malicious" cyber attacks in an unprecedented joint operation to reveal Beijing's espionage.

Britain blamed Beijing for targeting the Electoral Commission watchdog in 2021 and for being behind a campaign of online "reconnaissance" aimed at the email accounts of MPs and peers.

Labour's shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "So many serious questions for the Defence Secretary on this, especially from Forces personnel whose details were targeted.

"Any such hostile action is utterly unacceptable. Parliament will expect a full Commons statement tomorrow."

In response to the Beijing-linked hacks on the Electoral Commission and 43 individuals, a front company, Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company, and two people linked to the APT31 hacking group were sanctioned.

But some of the MPs targeted by the Chinese state said the response did not go far enough, urging the Government to toughen its stance on China by labelling it a "threat" to national security rather than an "epoch-defining challenge".

Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith repeated those calls, telling Sky News: "This is yet another example of why the UK government must admit that China poses a systemic threat to the UK and change the integrated review to reflect that.

"No more pretence, it is a malign actor, supporting Russia with money and military equipment, working with Iran and North Korea in a new axis of totalitarian states."

The Metropolitan Police said it is not involved in any investigation at this stage.

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