Another week, another Chinese hack - now's the time for action not words, we need to sanction Beijing

7 May 2024, 17:29

Another week, another Chinese hack - now's the time for action not words, we need to sanction Beijing
Another week, another Chinese hack - now's the time for action not words, we need to sanction Beijing. Picture: Getty/LBC
  • Dr Alan Mendoza is the Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Dr Alan Mendoza

By Dr Alan Mendoza

Another week, another hack of one of the UK’s electronic data services.

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This time, it is an armed forces payroll system that has been compromised by a seemingly unknown assailant, with a Ministry of Defence third-party contractor site targeted that included names and bank details of serving armed forces personnel.

While there is no evidence that any data has been extracted, it is obviously sub-optimal that any such personal data could have been accessed by an external actor, particularly given the role the armed forces perform in defence of the nation.

Speaking in The House of Commons today, the Prime Minister did not reveal the identity of the assailant, instead suggesting just that “a malign actor has compromised” the payroll system.

But there is no doubt as to who the Government is unofficially holding responsible for this latest breach: China.

And for good reason. China has form when it comes to hacking large datasets of information from this country, as seen by the recent discovery that it was Chinese actors that hacked the Electoral Commission in 2021.

China has also been linked to attempted breaches of the electronic communications of various MPs and Peers, a rare case that actually led to the imposition of sanctions on state-connected entities.

Nor has it just been the UK that has been affected. Across the world, Chinese agents have been held responsible for numerous cyber breaches, ranging from the ineffectual to the serious.

It seems that wherever Chinese trade spreads, so too does Chinese hacking of its supposed trading partners.

All this throws into stark relief, once again, the reality of the UK-China relationship. For all the talk about economic benefits and China’s benign role in the global system, the reality is somewhat different.

While we have opened our arms to China, considering only the financial gains that can be made, the Chinese Communist Party has taken advantage of our greed to launch attack after attack on our systems knowing that we will be loathe to criticise the world’s largest market.

And thus it has proved.

It is not, however, too late to change our ways. China is facing an economic slowdown of its own right now, making this a uniquely propitious moment to assemble a coalition of nations aggrieved at its behaviour and interested in forcing a change.

A strong UK response involving sanctions would stand a good chance of shocking Beijing if it was carried out in concert with those of our allies similarly afflicted.

It is quite obvious that wringing our hands and issuing mealy-mouthed condemnations has achieved - and will continue to achieve - nothing.

Now is the time for action, not words, and if we do not seize the moment we will have only ourselves to blame when the next Chinese-inspired assault comes.

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