UK condemns Chinese hackers following cyber attacks on British AI firm

Government-backed hackers attempting to steal trade secrets and sensitive intellectual property will be held to account, the Foreign Secretary has warned.

Dominic Raab said he is “deeply concerned” by claims two Chinese men targeted a number of global entitles as part of a hacking campaign stretching more than 10 years, which includes a British artificial intelligence firm and those working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The US has accused Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi of hacking into hundreds of computer systems of companies, governments and organisations across the world, stealing “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets, intellectual property and other valuable business information”.

American prosecutors claim the pair, who met at university, operated from China both for their own gain and with the assistance of and for the benefit of the Chinese government’s Ministry of State Security.

The unnamed British company is referred to as an “artificial intelligence and cancer research firm” which is believed to have had its network compromised in April this year.

It is listed in court documents among 25 known cases, largely from the US but also including targets in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden.

“I am deeply concerned by the evidence announced yesterday that China is engaged in malicious cyber attacks against commercial, medical and academic institutions, including those working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic,” Mr Raab said.

“Our message to governments prepared to enable these activities is clear: the UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account and deter further malicious activity around the world.”

The warning comes amid heightened tensions between China and the West, with the UK recently suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as well as extending an arms embargo to the region and imposing a ban on Chinese firm Huawei’s 5G equipment.

Victims range across various industries, from pharmaceuticals and defence to educational and gaming software.

According to the indictment, one of tactics used by the duo centred on software and web vulnerabilities, some of which were newly announced, meaning companies would not have enough time to install a fix.

John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security in the US, said: “China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist Party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including Covid-19 research.”