Britain accuses groups linked to China of ‘malicious cyber campaigns’ targeting voters and lawmakers

Britain accuses groups linked to China of 'malicious cyber campaigns' targeting voters and lawmakers

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The U.K. government on Monday linked a cyberattack that saw hackers access the data of millions of British voters with the Chinese state.

“I can confirm today that Chinese state affiliated actors were responsible for two malicious cyber campaigns targeting our democratic institutions and parliamentarians,” British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said in a speech to Parliament on Monday.

The allegations were in relation to a hack on the Electoral Commission, the independent agency tasked with setting standards for how U.K. elections should be run. The campaigns were said to have taken place between 2021 and 2022.

The attack was identified by the Electoral Commission in October 2022, but wasn’t disclosed until last year. Hackers accessed the names and addresses of anyone in Britain registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, the Electoral Commission said in a 2023 public notice.

Dowden said the U.K. believes China to be behind attempted reconnaissance on U.K. lawmakers that occurred in 2021.

He said the United States and other international partners to the U.K. would issue similar statements intended to “expose this activity and … hold China to account in ongoing patterns of hostile activity targeting our collective democracies.”

“We want now to be as open with the House and the British public,” Dowden said. “This is the latest in a clear pattern of hostile activity originating in China.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the U.K. was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC.

The announcement from the U.K. is likely to draw the ire of Beijing. Relations between the U.K. and China have soured over the years, particularly on the tech front, following actions from the British government designed to stem national security risks from Chinese technology companies.

Some hawkish lawmakers have been pressuring the U.K. government to take tougher action on China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-border group of lawmakers seeking to reform policy on China, said Monday in a post on social media platform X that they, along with other members of Parliament, activists, and dissidents, have been “subjected to harassment, impersonation, and attempted hacking from China for some time.”

“We take this opportunity to highlight that, though extremely unwelcome, our discomfort pales in comparison to Chinese dissidents who risk their lives to oppose the Chinese Communist Party. It is high time that they received greater support for their host governments,” the group said.

In 2020, for example, the U.K. government banned telecommunications equipment from Huawei in its 5G mobile network, citing spying concerns. Huawei, for its part, denies the allegations and says it wouldn’t cooperate with China to spy on Western communications.

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