21 Dec 2018

Chinese hacking 'no surprise'- Andrew Little

1:06 pm on 21 December 2018

Cyber attacks are a form of modern warfare and it is "no surprise" China has been involved in them, the minister responsible for New Zealand's spy agencies, Andrew Little, says.

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The GCSB said it became aware of the Chinese campaign in early 2017. Photo: 123rf

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) says it has established links between China's state security ministry and a long-running global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.

The GCSB said it became aware of the campaign, targeting the data of global service providers, in early 2017.

GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton told Morning Report the bureau had identified links between the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a campaign that focused on managed service providers, including some that operate in New Zealand.

These are organisations which provide email, phone and internet services to other organisations.

"This compromise has impacted services across the globe," he said.

"We have not seen to date any evidence that the information of the customers of those service providers in New Zealand have been compromised because we got onto this quite early."

Mr Hampton said this activity is counter to a commitment all APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) nations, including China, made in November 2016, when they agreed not to conduct or support ICT-enabled theft of intellectual property or other confidential business information for commercial advantage.

Andrew Hampton

GCSB director general Andrew Hampton. Photo: SUPPLIED

He said New Zealand is committed to upholding the rules-based international order, and such cyber campaigns are unacceptable.

The minister responsible for New Zealand's spy agencies, Andrew Little, said cyber attacks are a modern form of warfare.

"Russia has an outfit set up specifically for cyber attacks. North Korea obviously has a track record internationally for having done this. Some Middle Eastern countries are doing it. It's no surprise that China has this too," he said.

New Zealand can never be complacent, because so much data is stored online, Mr Little said.

"It attacks networks, it's hard to see it from the outside. That's why you need good systems, good protective systems, to pick it up when it happens and to respond effectively when it does."

While service providers appear to have been affected in this case, it appears people's data remains safe, he said.

"New Zealanders' information and interactions online have not been compromised through this attack. But that said, while it's good that that's happened on this occasion, we just have to make sure that we are doing everything we can so that we never see New Zealanders affected by these sorts of incursions."

He said China was notified that this attribution by New Zealand's spy agencies was going to be made, but he was not aware of any response yet.

Earlier this morning the US justice department announced criminal charges against two computer hackers said to be connected to the MSS.

The two, identified as Zhu Hua and Zhang Jianguo, worked in China to hack into computers to steal intellectual property and confidential business and technological data, according to the indictment. US authorities said the two worked in association with China's Ministry of State Security.

Read the full release from the US Department of Justice here.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden are expected to be involved in the condemnation of the hacking.

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