New Zealand accuses China of hacking parliament following US, UK allegations | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Hackers linked to the Chinese government launched a state-sponsored operation that targeted New Zealand’s parliament in 2021, officials said on Tuesday.
New Zealand’s allegation comes a day after US and British authorities announced a set of criminal charges and sanctions against seven hackers, all believed to be living in China, who targeted US officials, journalists, corporations, pro-democracy activists and the UK’s election watchdog. Both New Zealand and Australia have condemned the broader activity.

“Foreign interference of this nature is unacceptable, and we have urged China to refrain from such activity in future,” New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement. “New Zealand will continue to speak out – consistently and predictably – where we see concerning behaviours like this.”

The Chinese flag flies at the Chinese consulate building in Auckland. China’s embassy in Wellington denied interfering in New Zealand’s internal affairs, calling the accusations “groundless”. Photo: New Zealand Herald via AP
He said concerns about cyber activity attributed to groups sponsored by the Chinese government, targeting democratic institutions in both New Zealand and Britain, had been conveyed to the Chinese ambassador, Wang Xiaolong.

China’s embassy in New Zealand said in a statement that it rejects “outright such groundless and irresponsible accusations” and had expressed its dissatisfaction and resolute opposition with New Zealand authorities.

“We have never, nor will we in the future, interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, including New Zealand. Accusing China of foreign interference is completely barking up the wrong tree,” the statement said.

UK and US sanction Chinese entities for ‘malicious cyber activity’

New Zealand’s government said earlier on Tuesday its communications security bureau (GCSB), which overseas cybersecurity and signals intelligence, had established links between a Chinese state-sponsored actor known as Advanced Persistent Threat 40 (APT40) and malicious cyber activity targeting New Zealand’s parliamentary services and parliamentary counsel office in 2021.

The GCSB said APT40 is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security.

It added that APT40 had gained access to important information that enables the effective operation of New Zealand government but nothing of a sensitive or strategic nature had not been removed. Instead, the GCSB said it believed the group had removed information of a more technical nature that would have allowed more intrusive activity.

In the last financial year, 23 per cent of the 316 malicious cyber events that involved nationally significant organisations were attributed to state-sponsored actors, according to the GCSB.

The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable

Judith Collins, New Zealand’s cybersecurity minister

These attacks were not specifically attributed to China and New Zealand last year also condemned malicious cyber activity undertaken by the Russian government.

“The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable,” said Judith Collins, the minister responsible for the GCSB.

US and British officials late on Monday filed charges, imposed sanctions, and accused Beijing of a sweeping cyberespionage campaign that allegedly hit millions of people including lawmakers, academics and journalists, and companies including defence contractors.

American and British officials nicknamed the hacking group responsible Advanced Persistent Threat 31 or “APT31”, calling it an arm of China’s Ministry of State Security. Officials reeled off a laundry list of targets: White House staff members, US senators, British parliamentarians, and government officials across the world who criticised Beijing. Defence contractors, dissidents and security companies were also hit, officials from the two countries said.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters (right) shakes hand with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the parliament building in Wellington on March 18. Photo: AAP Image via Reuters

A joint statement from Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said persistent targeting of democratic institutions and processes has implications for democratic and open societies like Australia. It said such behaviour was unacceptable and must stop.

In 2019, Australian intelligence determined China was responsible for a cyberattack on its national parliament and three largest political parties before the general election but the Australian government never disclosed officially who was behind the attacks.

“We cooperate with China in some areas for mutual benefit,” he said at the time. “At the same time, we have also been consistent and clear that we will speak out on issues of concern.”


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