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China suspected of UK’s defence ministry payroll breach: Reports

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The UK Parliament is expected to be briefed by the defence minister later on Tuesday after reports of a massive data breach involving the Ministry of Defence (MoD) targeting service personnel from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

According to the BBC, the government suspects China was behind the hack of the armed forces payroll system that is run by an external contractor and includes data of both current and some past armed forces members.

However, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is not expected to directly name China when he updates members of Parliament in the House of Commons as the investigation remains ongoing.

The system used by the MoD includes names and bank details of armed forces personnel and in a very small number of cases, the data may include personal addresses. Government sources have stressed that no operational MoD data has been obtained in the hack, the motive behind which remains unclear.

It is understood the MoD has taken immediate action and the system has been taken off-line, while investigations are conducted.

The ministry is also in the process of notifying and providing support and advice to those affected, including making veterans’ organisations aware of what has happened. They will be provided with advice and support.

Salaries of the armed forces personnel, meanwhile, are expected to be paid as usual.

Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative Party MP and former soldier, told Sky News’ that China “was probably looking at the financially vulnerable with a view that they may be coerced in exchange for cash”.

This comes months after China’s “state-affiliated actors” were blamed by the British government for two “malicious” cyberattack campaigns in the UK.

In a statement in the House of Commons back in March, the government revealed that the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of its Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), concluded that the country’s Electoral Commission systems were highly likely compromised by a Chinese entity between 2021 and 2022.

The NCSC also claims that it is almost certain that the China state-affiliated APT31 conducted reconnaissance activity against British parliamentarians during a separate campaign in 2021. All such attacks to interfere with UK democracy and politics are said to have been unsuccessful, but it has led to two individuals and one company linked to APT31 being sanctioned.

The UK will not tolerate malicious cyber activity targeting our democratic institutions. It is an absolute priority for the UK government to protect our democratic system and values, UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told Parliament at the time.

I hope this statement helps to build wider awareness of how politicians and those involved in our democratic processes around the world are being targeted by state-sponsored cyber operations. We will continue to call out this activity, holding the Chinese government accountable for its actions, he said.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: May 07 2024 | 2:44 PM IST

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