UK Sanctions China-Based Hackers, US Indicts 7 Others

Attackers were targeting voters and politicians

clock • 3 min read
UK Sanctions China-Based Hackers, US Indicts 7 Others

The UK government has imposed sanctions on Chinese individuals and a technology firm in Wuhan for their involvement in cyberattacks targeting Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Electoral Commission.

The sanctioned individuals, Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, along with the Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd., are alleged to be associated with Chinese state-affiliated threat group APT31.

Under the sanctions, the culprits' assets are frozen and UK citizens and businesses are prohibited from managing their funds or resources. Additionally, a travel ban prevents sanctioned individuals from entering or staying in the UK.

"The UK will not tolerate malicious cyber activity targeting our democratic institutions," Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said.

"It is an absolute priority for the UK government to protect our democratic system and values. I hope this statement helps to build wider awareness of how politicians and those involved in our democratic processes around the world are being targeted by state-sponsored cyber operations."

Mr Dowden said the Chinese ambassador was summoned to be held accountable for China's alleged involvement in the cyber incidents.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said it was completely unacceptable that state-affiliated organizations from China were targeting British democratic institutions and political processes.

"While these attempts to interfere with UK democracy have not been successful, we will remain vigilant and resilient to the threats we face."

The cyberattack on the UK Electoral Commission, which occurred between August 2021 and October 2022, is described as one of the most significant breaches in British history.

Despite accessing databases containing sensitive voter information and emails, the Electoral Commission assured the public the security of elections had not been compromised, and it had taken steps to fortify systems against future threats.

British MPs targeted in the cyberattacks are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group that scrutinizes Beijing's activities.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith urged the government to designate China as a threat and called for additional sanctions against Chinese state-backed actors.

Meanwhile, Labour has pledged support for government efforts to counter state-sponsored interference in the electoral process, highlighting bipartisan recognition of the severity of the cyber threat foreign actors pose.

US Indicts Seven Chinese Individuals

In related news, the US Department of Justice has indicted seven Chinese nationals allegedly involved in a cyberespionage campaign targeting politicians and businesses, including voices critical of Beijing.

According to the indictment, APT31 deployed over 10,000 "malicious" emails containing hidden tracking links. They targeted officials within the US federal government, as well as entities deemed crucial to the national economy, particularly in the defense sector.

"The United States is focused on both disrupting the dangerous and irresponsible actions of malicious cyber actors, as well as protecting our citizens and our critical infrastructure," said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

"Through our whole-of-government approach and in close coordination with our British partners, Treasury will continue to leverage our tools to expose these networks and protect against these threats."

The accusations have sparked international outrage, with New Zealand revealing that its parliament was also targeted in a state-sponsored cyberattack in 2021, attributed to a group linked to China.

But New Zealand said it would refrain from implementing sanctions, citing their absence from the government's legislative agenda.

Australia and the European Union shared solidarity with the UK and USA, expressing concerns regarding China's cyber activities.

China Denies Accusations

In a statement refuting British allegations of Chinese state involvement, the Chinese embassy said the UK's accusations were baseless.

"We have no interest or need to meddle in the UK's internal affairs."

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian criticized the US and UK for exaggerating the cyber threat posed by China.

"We urge the United States and the United Kingdom to stop politicizing cyber security issues, stop slandering and smearing China, impose unilateral sanctions, and stop cyberattacks on China."

This article originally appeared on our sister site Computing. 

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