Taiwan’s ruling party is bolstering its cyber defences after hacking attacks that have raised fears that groups linked to the Chinese government plan to influence elections.
The Democratic Progressive party has boosted spending on online protection after the large-scale breaches over the past two years. Hackers accessed the party’s website and staff computers, stole data and modified content.
Relations between China and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, remain tense. Beijing has frozen official communications with Taipei since the DPP took power last year, replacing the more China-friendly Nationalist party, or Kuomintang.
The party and government agencies say they continue to be hit by hacking attacks from the mainland. Concerns are growing that tactics similar to those used by Russia to influence last year’s US election may be employed by China against Taiwan ahead of local polls scheduled for 2018.
“We are really aware that this may happen to us as well,” Yang Chia-liang, DPP spokesperson, told the Financial Times. “We are worried the Chinese government will try to target Taiwan and influence our elections.
” Mr Yang added that the party had started hiring outside companies to monitor network security and provide staff with additional training to protect their work.
Since last year’s election, cyber attacks have targeted the party, government agencies and private businesses, according to FireEye, a cyber security company with public and private sector clients on the island.
“What we’ve been seeing is that they are very actively targeted, and that many of the attack groups that are targeting them are based in mainland China,” said Bryce Boland, the group’s chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific.
Mr Boland said the hackers had built the capacity to “launch attacks to compromise victims in order to steal information to fuel an influence operation”, citing evidence that visitors to the DPP website had been profiled.
“China-based threat groups have all the technical know-how to pull off a Russian-style hack and leak operation,” he said.
Lennon Yao-chung Chang, a criminology expert at Australia’s Monash University, said he would “be surprised if China is not using similar tactics” to those employed by Russia.
Official statistics on the number of attacks, the exact locations they come from and the parties responsible are classified. Mr Boland and Mr Chang both said it was difficult to attribute an attack to a specific state actor.
Julie Wang, section head at Taiwan’s National Center for Cyber Security Technology, said the most frequent hacks were “advanced persistent threats”, a type usually used to steal data rather than damage an organisation, and that they emanated from China. Taiwan’s government departments are targeted by such APT threats on a “daily basis”, she said.
The 2018 local elections will see Taiwanese choose city mayors and councillors across the island and will be a bellwether of voter support for President Tsai Ing-wen and her administration.
Despite upgrades at the DPP headquarters, the party is worried about the security of its polling data, event schedules and campaign strategies. “If this information is left to the wrong hands, it may affect the elections,” Mr Yang said.