Info@NationalCyberSecurity
Info@NationalCyberSecurity

China is now hacking our DNA databases – we must stop this threat to our future | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


There is an adage in the cybersecurity world that “there are two types of company, those who have been hacked by the Chinese, and those who don’t know they have been hacked”.

Indeed, China’s hack of the electoral register wasn’t its first attempt at stealing data in the UK, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The question is how we respond to the threat in a meaningful way – something that this Conservative Government has shown that it’s ill-equipped to do, especially when it comes to future challenges.

Data is a precious commodity for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has created a vast array of channels through which it can hoover up all kinds of infomation.

This takes the form of overt data collection through Chinese companies – as we have seen with the likes of Tik Tok and Huawei – and more clandestine routes, including hacking and corporate espionage, often conducted by state-affiliated groups.

The Government has yet to tackle the vulnerabilities that are baked into digital systems used in the UK.

The United States is much further ahead than the UK in this regard and is pushing through legislation to force ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American owner or risk being banned.

This followed bipartisan acceptance of the national security risks associated with the collection and analysis of US citizens’ data by Chinese companies. It is a problem which shouldn’t be party political, but in Britain, the Conservatives’ failure to act is making it so.

When enriched by China with other sources and analysed using sophisticated AI software, our data can influence our democracy.

Alongside carrying out a proper Indo-Pacific tilt, we must try hard to improve our cybersecurity defence protocols in tandem with our security allies, particularly the US.

Currently, the Government is failing to respond to security challenges that are well understood, which severely reduces the chances we have against future threats facing advanced technology such as AI and Genomics.

In March last year, the then science minister, George Freeman, asserted that the Chinese gene-giant, BGI Group, is “aggressive in its international acquisition of intellectual property”.

He went further, claiming that “Genomics England was suffering several hack attacks from BGI each week” in 2014.

Responding to Mr Freeman’s claims at the time, a spokesman for the BGI Group said: “We are incredulous at this statement. BGI Group has never been, and will never be, involved in ‘hack attacks’ against anyone.”

Although the Government tried correcting the record, there have been no attempts to illustrate what in fact the science minister was referring to.

Rather than clear things up, the Government had to issue a correction after repeatedly failing to disclose that a multi-million-pound contract had been awarded to BGI during Covid.

Given what we discovered last month about iSoon’s systematic hacking of foreign governments, infrastructure and companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, we need urgent clarity on whether UK citizens’ genomics – their biological DNA – data has been exposed to hostile actors.

Just as in AI, genomics is quickly turning into a trillion-dollar industry that will very likely form the backbone of medical treatments in the future.

Labour’s recently published life sciences strategy recognises the importance of providing greater genome sequencing services in our healthcare system, as this will lead to personalised medicine and better health outcomes.

The strength of our life sciences sector will depend upon the amount of data available, and how exposed public and private sector organisations – from the NHS to major companies such as Bupa and Oxford Nanopore – are to state and non-state actors.

In this light, China’s quest for genomic data is part of an attempt to dominate the world’s life sciences industry.

This will bestow them with enormous leverage, and just as they have used their dominance of the solar panel industry to punish strategic competitors, creating another dependency when it comes to our healthcare and economic strength is highly dangerous.

Far from the economic threats, there are serious national security implications for a lack of action.

Analysing and predicting which diseases may impact a population over a certain amount of time would allow China to acquire pharmaceutical patents and technologies which could seriously undermine any UK public health initiatives.

The next Labour government will take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China.

Cyber security forms an integral part of this holistic strategy. As part of this, it is vital that we raise issues of concern with the Chinese leadership – particularly on human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Ukraine, and national security – when we have the chance to do so.

Labour’s shadow Asia and Pacific Minister, Catherine West, has recently visited Beijing to make our concerns clear.

With attention focused on China’s cyberwarfare capabilities, there is an opportunity for the UK government to act in the national interest by protecting our sensitive data.

Only by acknowledging the danger coming from Chinese firms, as our US allies have, can we begin to protect ourselves.

Fabian Hamilton is Labour MP for Leeds North East and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee

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