New Zealand accuses China of hacking parliament, condemns activity

On Tuesday, the New Zealand government disclosed its concerns to the Chinese government regarding its alleged involvement in a state-sponsored cyber intrusion on New Zealand’s parliament in 2021, which had been uncovered by the nation’s intelligence services.

The revelation of information being accessed through malicious cyber activities targeting New Zealand’s parliamentary entities coincides with accusations from Britain and the US against China of engaging in extensive cyber espionage.

Both New Zealand and Australia have strongly condemned this broader pattern of activity. Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, expressed, “Foreign interference of this nature is unacceptable, and we have urged China to refrain from such activity in the future,” in a statement. He also conveyed concerns about cyber activities attributed to Chinese government-sponsored groups targeting democratic institutions in New Zealand and the United Kingdom to the Chinese ambassador.

The Chinese Embassy in New Zealand did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Tuesday, the government stated that its communications security bureau (GCSB), responsible for overseeing cybersecurity and signals intelligence, had established links between a Chinese state-sponsored actor known as Advanced Persistent Threat 40 (APT40) and malicious cyber activities targeting New Zealand’s parliamentary services and parliamentary counsel office in 2021.

The GCSB indicated that APT40 is associated with the Ministry of State Security and had accessed significant information critical to the operation of New Zealand’s government. However, it asserted that nothing sensitive or strategic had been removed. Instead, the group appeared to have taken technical information that could facilitate more intrusive activities.

According to the GCSB, in the last financial year, 23% of the 316 malicious cyber events involving nationally significant organizations were attributed to state-sponsored actors. While these attacks were not specifically linked to China, New Zealand also previously condemned malicious cyber activities conducted by the Russian government.

Judith Collins, the minister responsible for the GCSB, stated, “The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable.”

Late on Monday, US and British officials filed charges, imposed sanctions, and accused Beijing of conducting a widespread cyber espionage campaign, affecting millions of individuals, including lawmakers, academics, journalists, and companies, such as defense contractors.

American and British officials have dubbed the hacking group responsible for the cyber intrusions as Advanced Persistent Threat 31, or “APT31”, identifying it as an extension of China’s Ministry of State Security. Officials enumerated a wide range of targets, including White House personnel, US senators, British parliamentarians, and government officials worldwide who have criticized Beijing.

Additionally, defense contractors, dissidents, and security firms were among those affected, according to statements from officials of both countries.

In a joint statement, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil emphasized the persistent targeting of democratic institutions and processes, highlighting its implications for democratic and open societies like Australia. They asserted that such behavior is unacceptable and must cease.

In 2019, Australian intelligence concluded that China was behind a cyber attack on its national parliament and the three largest political parties prior to the general election. However, the Australian government never officially disclosed the identity of the perpetrators behind the attacks.

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