China Accused of State-Backed Cyber Attack on MPs and UK Voter Data

Evidence has directly linked a large-scale cyber attack to Beijing. Whilst the Electoral Commission has played down the impact of the attack, it highlights potential global security concerns at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions.

Data Breach Occurred in 2021

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Findings suggest that the original breach happened in August 2021. The public has only been made aware now, leading to accusations the UK has been “too soft and too slow” at holding China to account. 

Announcement Was Made in 2023

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The cyber attack was discovered within 72 hours, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and National Crime Agency were both informed. The announcement was only made public in 2023.

Election Outcomes Not Deemed in Danger

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The Electoral Commission claimed “hostile actors” gained access to copies of the electoral registers and “control systems”. It also said neither breach had impact on any elections.

Oliver Dowden Expected to Address Parliament Today

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The deputy PM, Oliver Dowden is largely expected to make a statement regarding the breach today. It’s assumed he’ll explain what has happened and the UK government’s response. 

MPs Have Been Attacked Too

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Whilst the bulk of the attack is thought to have been on UK voter data, there is evidence that several MPs and Peers who have criticised the Chinese government have been targeted.

Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) Members Under Most Threat

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Members of the cross-parliamentary group which deals with the democratic approach to China,  Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Laughton, David Alton and Stewart McDonald are believed to have been subject to data breaches. 

Group Deemed ‘Hostile’ Towards China

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The group has frequently been critical of Beijing and its dealings on the world stage. Members of IPAC would most certainly be top of the Chinese list of targets in the circumstances.

Growing Suspicion of China in the West

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There’s been a general unease about Chinese interference in the west for many years now. America, the UK, the EU and various other western democracies have taken steps to protect themselves against Chinese espionage.

Tech and Security Experts Warn Against Chinese Investment in Infrastructure

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Experts have long warned that allowing Chinese companies to invest in and build communications infrastructure makes espionage easier to achieve.

Government Will Make Assurances Against Interference in National Security

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Acting on these warnings, the UK government will stress that it has previously rejected and wound down direct Chinese investment in infrastructure, citing national security as the reason. 

Arrests Have Been Made On Spying Accusations

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In September 2023 two parliamentary researchers in their 20s and 30s were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, accused of spying for China. 

Government Accused of Being Reluctant to Accuse China

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Speaking to Radio 4, executive director of IPAC, Luke de Pulford said that the delay in the announcement “indicates that the government was a little bit reluctant to say that China had actually done this”.

UK Response Compared to the US Response

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There was dismay around the lack of action to do with this and similar cases. He continued to say “there seems to be a reluctance in general to hold China to account for its abuses.”

Lack of Sanctions Causing Concern

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Luke de Pulford also said… “The United States sanctioned over 40 members of the government in Hong Kong, and the UK, even though we are the ones with a legal responsibility, have sanctioned zero, not one.”

Suspicion That up to 43 People Have Been Targeted

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There’s suggestions from some corners of the media and security industry that up to 43 MPs and Peers could have been targeted in the attack.

Calls for Actions, Not Words

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Many commentators are saying the problem with Chinese cyber attacks and general espionage is growing, and sanctions need to be introduced.

Warnings Falling on Deaf Ears

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Experts are warning the authorities that words and warnings have little to no effect, so are calling for action. Despite government calls for China to stop state-backed cyber operations, there’s no evidence of a slow down. 

Breach Latest in a Growing List of Issues With Western and Chinese Relations

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Western and Chinese relationships have long been uneasy. With COVID-19, the spy balloons over the US, threats against Taiwan and now this large-scale cyber attack emerging from China in recent years, relations are at an all-time low. 

What to Expect

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The likelihood is security will be upgraded, sanctions will be introduced and there’ll be calls for Chinese espionage to be stopped. With yet another PR disaster for China and such little gain, you’d hope they’ll rethink the way they deal with the west.

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