Rishi Sunak criticises ‘authoritarian and assertive’ China after MoD hack

Rishi Sunak criticises 'authoritarian and assertive' China after MoD hack

Rishi Sunak has said Beijing is “acting in a way that is more authoritarian and assertive abroad” after Sky News revealed China hacked the Ministry of Defence

The prime minister made his first comments about the massive data breach on Tuesday lunchtime after Sky News revealed on Monday evening that China is responsible for hacking the armed forces’ third-party payroll system.

He refused to name China but said a “malign actor has compromised the armed forces payment network”.

“I set out a very robust policy towards China, which means that we need to take the powers which we have done to protect ourselves against the risk that China and other countries pose to us,” he added.

“They are a country with fundamentally different values to ours that are acting in a way that is more authoritarian and assertive abroad.”

Mr Sunak said he wanted to reassure people the MoD has already removed the network, taken it offline and is “making sure the people affected are supported in the right way”.

Names and bank details of current army, Royal Navy and RAF personnel and some veterans were exposed by the hack.

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China said the accusations were “completely fabricated and malicious slanders”.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London denied the country had anything to do with an MoD hack and said it had made “relevant responses” to accusations on the 25 and 27 March.

He accused the UK of politicising cyber security and claimed there was no factual evidence of China hacking the MoD.

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China: Hacking allegations ‘absurd’

‘China has no need to meddle in internal affairs of UK’

The spokesman said: “I will hereby reiterate that the so-called cyber attacks by China against the UK are completely fabricated and malicious slanders.

“We strongly oppose such accusations. China has always firmly fought all forms of cyber attacks according to law. China does not encourage, support or condone cyber attacks. 

“At the same time, we oppose the politicisation of cyber security issues and the baseless denigration of other countries without factual evidence.

“China has neither the interest nor the need to meddle in the internal affairs of the UK.”

The attack was focused on a contractor system that is not connected to the main MoD computer systems. It has now been taken down and a review launched.

All salaries will be paid this month and the MoD hopes serving personnel will not be concerned about their safety, with staff to be provided with advice and support.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is due to make a statement on the issue to the Commons this afternoon.

Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and former soldier, told Sky News China “was probably looking at the financially vulnerable with a view that they may be coerced in exchange for cash”.

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China ‘trying to undermine our democracy’

MP Tim Loughton, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and MP Stewart McDonald during a press conference at the Centre for Social Justice.
Pic: PA
Sir Iain Duncan Smith says the government needs to stand up to China. File pic: PA

China is winning the war

Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China, told Sky News: “China is behind this.

“And the reluctance, I think, comes from this panic that somehow if we upset China, China will kill the business.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the hack was “deeply concerning” and the government “has got questions to answer”.

Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said Beijing has carried out many cyber attacks on Britain but the UK has only retaliated once in the form of sanctioning the companies carrying out the attack rather than the Chinese government.

He added that FBI director Christopher Wray “put it pretty starkly” when he said Beijing’s cyber espionage programme is so vast it is bigger than all its major competitors combined.

A soldier stands guard outside the MoD. Pic: Reuters
The hack targeted an MoD payroll system. File pic: Reuters

Not China’s first cyber attack on UK

The hack could raise questions about whether other countries with challenging relationships with China will want to share sensitive intelligence with the UK.

The attack comes less than two months after “state-affiliated actors”, alleged to be working on behalf of China, were blamed by the government for two “malicious” cyber attack campaigns in the UK.