‘Malicious’ cyber hacks launched by China thwarted as UK announces new sanctions

25 March 2024, 16:11 | Updated: 25 March 2024, 19:16

Oliver Dowden says two individuals and a company have been sanctioned by the UK government
Oliver Dowden says two individuals and a company have been sanctioned by the UK government. Picture: Parliament TV/Alamy

By Flaminia Luck

Chinese state-affiliated actors were responsible for two "malicious" cyber campaigns which targeted "both our democratic institutions and parliamentarians", Deputy PM Oliver Dowden has confirmed.

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Mr Dowden said China's "cumulative attempts to interfere with the United Kingdom's democracy have not succeeded".

He said there was an attempt to compromise the UK Electoral Commission between 2021 and 2022 and attacks against UK parliamentary accounts in a separate campaign in 2021.

Addressing MPs in the Commons, he said: "I want to reassure people that the compromise of this information whilst it is obviously concerning typically does not create a risk to those affected and I want to further reassure the House that the commission has worked with security specialists to investigate the incident and remove the threat from their systems.

"The commission has since taken further steps to increase the resilience of their systems."

Mr Dowden said calling out such behaviour was part of the UK's defence, with allies - including the US - set to issue similar statements to "hold China to account for the ongoing patterns of hostile activity targeting our collective democracies".

Read more: MPs claim 'harassment, impersonation, and attempted hacking' from China

Read more: Britain to hit China with fresh sanctions over voter hack as rogue nations accused of ‘slurs against Princess of Wales’

Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, who&squot;s among MPs being targeted, says we can&squot;t be "bullied" by Beijing.
Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, who's among MPs being targeted, says we can't be "bullied" by Beijing. Picture: Getty Images

He said that two people and an entity associated with APT31 have been sanctioned by the UK Government.

"This email campaign by APT31 was blocked by Parliament's cybersecurity measures. In this case it was entirely unsuccessful," Mr Dowden said.

"However, any targeting of Members of this House by foreign state actors is completely unacceptable.

"Taken together, the United Kingdom judges that these actions demonstrate a clear and persistent pattern of behaviour that signals hostile intent from China.

"That is why the United Kingdom has today sanctioned two individuals and one entity associated with the Chinese state-affiliated APT31 group, for involvement in malicious cyber activity, targeting officials, Government entities and parliamentarians around the world."

The Chinese government denied launching cyber attacks against the UK.

CCP spokesman Victor Gao told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr that the idea that China had launched cyber attacks on the UK was “completely ridiculous”.

He continued: "If anyone in Britain thinks that the Chinese government or authorities at large would have any interest in hacking into the British politicians accounts to gain information, I think that allegation is ludicrous.

"Anyone in the Chinese government and authorities wanting to do that is completely out of their mind."

But ex-MI6 chief Nigel Inkster told Andrew that China is a threat that should be “taken seriously”.

After China's 'malicious' cyber-attack, Andrew Marr hears from Victor Gao

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

"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 cyber security issues and the baseless denigration of other countries without factual evidence.

"We urge the relevant parties to stop spreading false information and stop their self-staged, anti-China political farce."

Earlier on Monday, a number of MPs claimed to have been subjected to "harassment, impersonation and attempted hacking from China for some time."

At a press conference in London, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Loughton and Stewart McDonald called for a "new era" in UK-China relations, with Sir Iain adding they cannot be "bullied" by Beijing.

In his address, Dowden described the targeting of members of the House as "completely unacceptable".