Brits accuse China of espionage against banks

Times:

The Government has openly accused China of carrying out state-sponsored espionage against vital parts of Britain’s economy, including the computer systems of big banks and financial services firms.

In an unprecedented alert, the Director-General of MI5 sent a confidential letter to 300 chief executives and security chiefs at banks, accountants and legal firms this week warning them that they were under attack from “Chinese state organisations”. It is believed to be the first time that the Government has directly accused China of involvement in web-based espionage. Such a blunt and explicit warning from Jonathan Evans could have serious diplomatic consequences and cast a shadow over Gordon Brown’s first official visit to China as Prime Minister early in the new year.

A summary of the MI5 warning, a copy of which has been seen by The Times, was posted on a secure government website. It says that Mr Evans wrote to business leaders “warning them of the electronic espionage attack”.

The summary, on the website of the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure, says: “The contents of the letter highlight the following: the Director-General’s concerns about the possible damage to UK business resulting from electronic attack sponsored by Chinese state organisations, and the fact that the attacks are designed to defeat best-practice IT security systems.”

It adds: “The letter acknowledges the strong economic and commercial reasons to do business with China, but the need to ensure management of the risks involved.”

Access to the site is limited to groups that form part of the country’s critical infrastructure, which include telecoms firms, banks and water and electricity companies. The document gives warning that British companies doing business in China are being targeted by the Chinese Army, which is using the internet to steal confidential commercial information. The Home Office refused to comment last night on what it called leaked private correspondence. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London said he was unaware of the allegations and that the embassy had not received any complaints from the British authorities.

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German suffered similar attacks recently and China has also tried to attack Defense Department computers in the US. Recently hard drives manufactured in China were found to have Trojan horse software built into them that sent the contents of the hard drive to a computer in China.

These are not the acts of a friendly commercial trading partner. China needs to decide whether it is going to be an adversary or a country with open trade relations. The latter would be much more beneficial to China and the rest of the world.

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