‘Attack on democracy is unacceptable’: UK sanctions Chinese individuals for state-sponsored cyber attacks on British MPs

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The UK government has officially accused China of orchestrating what it terms as “malicious” cyber campaigns aimed at Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Electoral Commission. This accusation led to the imposition of sanctions on two individuals and a company allegedly involved in cyber-attacks. Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden stated that these entities attempted to access information from MPs critical of Beijing and potentially sensitive data of up to 40 million voters. In response, the Chinese embassy in the UK dismissed these claims as “completely unfounded” and labeled them as “malicious slander.”

The individuals sanctioned by the UK are named Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, along with the Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd., which the British government asserts is associated with the China state-affiliated cyber espionage group, Advanced Persistent Threat Group 31 (APT31). Consequently, the UK sanctions will freeze assets and prohibit UK citizens and businesses from handling their funds or resources, along with imposing a travel ban preventing their entry or stay in the UK.

Mr. Dowden emphasised the UK’s stance against malicious cyber activities, emphasising the protection of democratic systems and values as an absolute priority. The Chinese ambassador is expected to be summoned to address China’s involvement in these incidents.

Additionally, the United States has announced criminal charges against the same two Chinese individuals, along with five others, for conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and wire fraud in New York. Moreover, New Zealand has accused China of targeting its parliamentary network in 2021, with allegations that the Chinese state-sponsored group APT40 was responsible for the hacking activity. However, New Zealand clarified that it would not introduce sanctions as it wasn’t part of the government’s legislative agenda.

The cyber-attack on the UK Electoral Commission, occurring between August 2021 and October 2022, is described as one of the most significant in British history. While databases containing voter information were accessed, Mr. Dowden assured that the security of elections remained uncompromised.

The MPs targeted are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, known for scrutinizing Beijing’s activities. Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former minister Tim Loughton highlighted the need for a robust response, advocating for designating China as “a threat” and imposing further sanctions against Chinese government actors.

These developments signal an escalation in diplomatic tension between the UK and China, contrasting with previous efforts to foster closer ties. Concerns over Chinese espionage and interference in parliamentary affairs have been on the rise in the UK government, leading to increased scrutiny and measures to safeguard national security.

 

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