Britain’s democracy under threat from Chinese cyber attackers, government warns

Britain’s democracy is under threat from Chinese cyber attacks that accessed the details of 40 million UK voters and targeted senior politicians, MPs will be told today.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden is due to tell Parliament that Beijing is behind a hacking operation that accessed millions of UK voters’ details from the Electoral Commission.

The deputy prime minister will also confirm that Chinese hackers have targeted and impersonated MPs who have been critical of the communist regime.

The announcement, expected this afternoon, will likely lead to renewed calls for the UK to step up sanctions against China.

A number of politicians who have been critical of China are due to be briefed by Parliament’s director of security Alison Giles today on operations conducted against them.

The affected MPs are reported to include former Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan Smith, former minister and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee Tim Louhgton, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Stewart McDonald, and cross-bench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Tim Loughton MP told the BBC that “for too long” the government has not taken the “strategic threat” from China seriously.

Speaking on the BBC’s Westminster Hour, he said: “We need to have a raft of senior Chinese officials seriously sanctioned because of what’s been going on with this cyber attack, what’s going on in Hong Kong [and] in Xinjiang.”

The politicians targeted are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac), an international cross-party group of politicians who take a hawkish stance towards China.

Luke de Pulford, the executive director of Ipac, said on Monday that he was surprised British ministers had taken so long to respond to name China’s role in hacking the Electoral Commission.

“There seems to be a reluctance in general to hold China to account for its abuses,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

In a statement on X, SNP’s McDonald said the group planned to hold a short press conference following an expected government statement today.

The Electoral Commission was hacked in August 2021, but the attackers were able to avoid detection for over 12 months, before the Commission identified suspicious activity on its network in October 2022.

The attackers targeted servers that held email, control systems and electoral registers, and were able to obtain reference copies of the electoral registers held by the commission for research purposes and to conduct checks on political donors.

The registers included the names and addresses of everybody in the UK who registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, including those who opted to keep their details off the open register and the names of registered overseas voters, Computer Weekly has previously reported.

Foreign secretary David Cameron is expected to meet with the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs today, where he will field questions from MPs on China, according to The Sunday Times which first reported the story.

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