FBI and MI5 call out China for sponsoring cyber threats

Xi Jinping

Although state-sponsored cyberattacks have become quite common nowadays, many countries are joining hands in order to resist this strain of malicious activity. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has now reported that two of the top global intelligence firms, U.S.' FBI and UK's MI5 have issued a rare joint statement, cautioning western tech companies to be careful when it comes to Chinese espionage.

The statement was given at MI5's headquarters by MI5 director-general Ken McCallum and FBI director Christopher Wray. Excerpts from the rather blunt conference can be read below:

The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market. They're set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.

[...] We want to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge—China, if we are to protect our economies, our institutions and our democratic values.

[...] We’ve seen China looking for ways to insulate their economy against potential sanctions, trying to cushion themselves from harm if they do anything to draw the ire of the international community. In our world, we call that kind of behavior a clue.

China has responded strongly to the accusations as well, with an embassy spokesperson in Washington describing the move as politicians who are destroying China's image with false claims. The Chinese government has essentially condemned the claims made by the intelligence firms and noted that it does not engage in state-sponsored cyberattacks and is actually a victim of them. It demanded the U.S. to be a "truly responsible actor in cyberspace" and called it out for mass online surveillance as well.

The FBI and MI5 clarified that their words are not targeted at the Chinese public, they are aimed squarely at the Chinese government. The FBI claims that it opens an investigation into China's activities every 12 hours on average and the MI5 says that the number of its investigations into the country's interference is seven times more now than it was in 2018.

Although the intelligence firms have not demanded that western tech organizations stop doing business in China completely, they have asked such firms to re-evaluate the risk in this space and be vigilant because Chinese laws make them vulnerable to state-sponsored interference.

Source: WSJ (paywall)

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