UK set to consider sanctions for Chinese cyber interference

The UK will “stop at nothing” to protect against cyber attacks, a government minister said, as China was set to be accused of targeting the elections watchdog.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will blame China for a cyber-attacks on the Electoral Commission and a number of MPs, as Asia Editor Debi Edward explains

The UK will “stop at nothing” to protect against cyber attacks, a government minister said, as China was set to be accused of targeting the elections watchdog.

The government is expected to say Beijing-linked hackers were behind a cyber attack on the Electoral Commission, which exposed the personal data of 40 million voters, as well as 43 individuals including MPs and peers.

Efforts to step up pressure on China in response include looking at sanctions on individuals thought to be connected with the alleged activity, according to multiple reports.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden is expected to update MPs on the situation later on Monday.

The Electoral Commission attack was identified in October 2022 but the hackers had first been able to access the commission’s systems for more than a year, since August 2021.

The registers held at the time of the cyber attack include the name and address of anyone in the UK who was registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, as well as the names of those registered as overseas voters.

Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie said he could not comment on the speculation about China but told LBC Radio: “The fact is that this Government has invested a lot of time, money and effort in ensuring that our cyber security capabilities are at the place they need to be, we’ve increased the powers of our intelligence and security community to be able to deal with these threats.

“And we will stop at nothing to ensure that the British people, our democracy, our freedom of speech and our way of life is defended.”

He insisted the government took a pragmatic approach to dealing with Beijing, amid reports that China’s EVE Energy is set to invest in a battery plant in the West Midlands.

“We have to have a grown-up, pragmatic relationship with China. And that means looking at each of these investments in the round, on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that our security and our individual liberties and freedoms are not undermined by any of the investments that are under way.”

Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie. / Credit: PA

A small group of politicians who are hawkish on China are said to have been called to a briefing by Parliament’s director of security, Alison Giles, in relation to the activity.

They include former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former minister Tim Loughton, crossbench peer Lord Alton and SNP MP Stewart McDonald, the Sunday Times reported.

The four are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) pressure group, which focuses on issues involving the increasingly assertive Asian power.

Meanwhile, reforms of UK spying laws are continue to make their way through Parliament, with the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill also in the Commons on Monday.

The legislation includes measures to make it easier for agencies to examine and retain bulk datasets, such as publicly available online telephone records.

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