2 May 2024

IPAC wants to see acknowledgement of all cyber breaches against public figures

11:38 am on 2 May 2024
Labour MP Ingrid Leary in select committee

IPAC co-chair Ingrid Leary said the group has not found out why it was not informed of the cyber hacking. Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China whose members were victims of a China-backed cyber attack is discussing forming a standing committee to deal with foreign influence and interference such as hacking and "soft power coercive lobbying".

Louisa Wall and Simon O'Connor, both former members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, claimed to have been specifically targeted in 2021, the New Zealand Herald reported, while academic Anne-Marie Brady said she was also a target.

Ingrid Leary who is the co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), the cross party group which was targeted said "secure and transparent systems are crucial for democracy, Parliament is the highest court in the land and these information gaps are indefensible".

So far the group did not know why it was not informed of the cyber hacking and it backed calls for the Inspector-General of Intelligence to be involved, she said.

Leary said there were two hacks that linked into cyber attacks on Joe Biden's presidential campaign.

APT is a common term in cybersecurity for identifying groups carrying out attacks like this, and stands for Advanced Persistent Threat.

"In both of these cases in New Zealand appear to be targeted to IPAC MPs and although APT40 was acknowledged by the [New Zealand] government there has been no word or even acknowledgement that APT31 occurred and that is the one which we have the evidence about."

The group wants to see acknowledgement of the APT31 hack, she said.

"We want to see acknowledgement and attribution of all future cyber breaches of MPs or public figures, we want assurances that MPs and anyone involved will be told in future - that's absolutely critical."

IPAC was also discussing whether there should be standing committee on foreign influence and interference to deal with hacking but also "soft power coercive lobbying", she said.

"There is that function in Parliament currently in a reactive sense from the Security and Intelligence Committee but we feel a proactive cross party group that looks at foreign trends, at the new threats that are coming out from cyber space and so on would give an opportunity for proactive work."

That committee could then make recommendations to another select committee to take further action, she said.

"It's an evolving threat, it's an evolving field and we need to evolve and build our resilience."

Meanwhile, University of Canterbury China expert Anne-Marie Brady who was targeted said it was embarrassing that the New Zealand government had had the information since 2022 but it did not tell people.

It should have informed those who had been hacked as soon as possible to enable them to protect themselves, she said.

The Minister Responsible for Government Communications Security Bureau, Judith Collins, said she would ask the agency for some clarification.

"I think we'll find out the facts. I've certainly asked for an explanation just to get the facts for myself."

Collins said people had a right to know if they had been targeted.

RNZ has approached the GCSB for comment.

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