US, UK, New Zealand accuse China-sponsored hackers for taking down crucial infra, parliament – Firstpost | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Representative image of China-sponsored hackers. Image Credit: Freepik

Officials from the United States and the United Kingdom have jointly filed charges and imposed sanctions against China, alleging its involvement in a widespread cyberespionage campaign targeting millions of individuals and organizations worldwide. The hacking group, dubbed Advanced Persistent Threat 31 (APT31), is purportedly linked to China’s Ministry of State Security.

In a related development, New Zealand has attributed a “malicious” cyberattack in 2021 to state-sponsored Chinese hackers. Security Services Minister Judith Collins emphasized safeguarding sensitive government information from cyber threats.

The targets of the cyberattacks reportedly include lawmakers, academics, journalists, and government officials critical of Beijing, as well as defence contractors and various companies in sectors such as steel, energy, and apparel. Additionally, the spouses of senior US officials and lawmakers were said to have been among those targeted.

According to Deputy US Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the primary objectives of the hacking operation were to silence critics of the Chinese regime, infiltrate government institutions, and steal trade secrets. US prosecutors have unsealed an indictment against seven alleged Chinese hackers, accusing them of compromising millions of Americans’ work accounts, personal emails, online storage, and telephone call records.

Meanwhile, British officials have accused APT31 of targeting British lawmakers critical of China, along with a separate group of Chinese spies responsible for a hack on Britain’s electoral watchdog, compromising the data of millions in the UK.

Chinese diplomats in both the UK and the US have dismissed the allegations, labelling them as unfounded and malicious. Nevertheless, both countries have imposed sanctions on a firm allegedly connected to China’s Ministry of State Security, which they claim to be a front company for the hacking activity.

The US Treasury Department announced sanctions on Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology, along with two Chinese nationals, in response to the cyberespionage activities. FBI Director Christopher Wray condemned China’s actions, characterising them as brazen attempts to undermine US cybersecurity and target American interests and innovation.

The recent accusations come amidst escalating tensions between Beijing and Western nations over cyberespionage issues. While Western intelligence agencies have been vocal about alleged Chinese state-backed hacking activities, China has also accused Western entities of similar operations.

The indictment by US prosecutors highlighted several notable targets, including a US presidential campaign in 2020 and an American public opinion research firm during the 2018 midterm elections. John Hultquist, chief analyst for cybersecurity intelligence firm Mandiant, underscored the significance of political organizations as targets for collecting geopolitical intelligence.

As allegations and counter-allegations continue to unfold, the global cybersecurity landscape remains fraught with challenges, with governments and cybersecurity experts emphasizing the critical need for robust defences against cyber threats.

(With inputs from agencies)


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