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London accuses Beijing of cyberattacks against elected officials

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Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has claimed that actors affiliated with the Chinese state had committed two malicious cyber actions. (Archive photo)

Agence France-Presse

A few months before the British legislative elections, London accused the Chinese state on Monday of having carried out cyberattacks against parliamentarians critical of Beijing and against the United Kingdom Electoral Commission, announcing sanctions and a summons of the #x27;Chinese ambassador.

This affair comes on top of a succession of crises between the two countries in recent years, a far cry from the golden age desired in 2015 by former British Prime Minister David Cameron, today Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden came to Parliament to announce that actors affiliated with the ;Chinese state had committed two malicious cyber actions.

This is the latest in a series of hostile activities by China, which includes targeting democratic institutions and parliamentarians in the UK and other countries .

A quote from Oliver Dowden, British Deputy Prime Minister

On Monday afternoon, the American government announced the indictment of seven hackers associated with the Chinese government, accused of computer intrusions targeting people perceived as critics of China, American companies and politicians .

And on Tuesday, New Zealand accused a Chinese state-backed group of carrying out a cyberattack against its services parliament in 2021. According to the Minister responsible for the protection of Government Communications, Judith Collins, the attack was repelled and the group put out of harm's way.

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New Zealand stands with UK in its condemnation of Chinese cyber activities, according to a government statement.

The British Electoral Commission, which oversees elections in the United Kingdom, announced in August 2023, without naming China, that it had been the victim of a complex cyberattack from hostile actors, who had access to its system for more than a year between 2021 and 2022.

The attack allowed access to servers containing in particular copies of electoral registers with the data of 40 million voters, according to the British media.

But according to Mr. Dowden, these Attempts to interfere in UK democracy have been unsuccessful.

The intrusion did not impact election security and will have no impact on how elections people register, vote or participate in democratic processes, he said.

But to show its firmness a few months before the legislative elections in the United Kingdom, which must take place by the end of the year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will summon the Chinese ambassador so that ;it accounts for China's conduct in these incidents, Mr. Dowden said.

Two individuals and an organization will thus do the ;subject to sanctions for their involvement in malicious cyber activities, in the United Kingdom, but also elsewhere in the world.

They are Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, both members of the hacker organization APT31, affiliated with Beijing according to experts, as well as the company Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology, a front of this organization according to the British government.

They were at the same time sanctioned by the United States, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday. Zhao Guangzong, Ni Gaobin and five other Chinese nationals were also charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and electronic fraud.

In July 2021 , APT31 would have carried out reconnaissance activities in order to find targets among British parliamentarians. An APT31 email campaign was blocked using Parliament's cybersecurity protocols, Dowden said.

Asked about the accusations Monday before the announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian responded that it was necessary to base on objective evidence rather than defaming other countries without factual basis, let alone politicizing cybersecurity issues.

Reassuringly, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the United Kingdom would do what was necessary to ensure its security and protect itself in the face of the historic challenge posed by an increasingly assertive China.

In September 2023, Mr. Sunak had already denounced to his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang Beijing's interference in the Westminster Parliament, after the revelation of two arrests for espionage that had occurred six months previously .

But for some MPs from both the majority and the opposition, the United Kingdom's response to China, which comes three years after these acts of piracy, still remains too moderate.

The mountain has given birth to a mouse, castigated Iain Duncan Smith, influential Conservative MP sanctioned by China for criticizing the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority. He called on London to crack down by directly sanctioning Chinese political leaders.

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