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MoD data breach: China suspected of hacking UK armed forces payroll

  • By Henry Zeffman and Gordon Corera
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

The government suspects China of being behind the hacking of an armed forces payroll system, according to the BBC.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps will not identify a specific culprit when he addresses MPs today, but is expected to warn of the dangers posed by cyber espionage from hostile states.

The system used by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) includes the names and banking details of armed forces personnel.

China called the suggestion a “fabricated and malicious slander.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, without naming the country responsible, said “a malicious actor has compromised” the payroll system.

In a very small number of cases, the data may include personal addresses.

The system, containing “HMRC-style personal information” on current, reservist and ex-members of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force over a period of years, was run by a contractor external.

Downing Street said it was reviewing the security of the unnamed contractor’s operations.

The government became aware of the data breach in recent days and has found no evidence that the hackers deleted the data, but it is continuing its investigation.

Sources told BBC News that the investigation into who was behind the breach, which will be seen as an embarrassment to the MoD, was in its early stages.

It can take months, sometimes years, to gather enough evidence to publicly accuse China. It is therefore unlikely that China will be officially named today.

However, this is where suspicion seems to be pointing, especially in light of Beijing’s track record of targeting these types of data sets.

Asked why the Government is not pointing to China as responsible, the Prime Minister highlighted “very robust” Government policy which means the UK can protect itself against China risk and that defense spending has increase.

Military personnel affected by the hack will receive further information from the government about the breach and will be advised that any concerns relate more to fraud risks than personal safety.

In an email sent to those affected on Tuesday, staff were told they were confident May salaries would not be affected, but there may be slight delays in paying current expenses.

In response to the breach, Conservative MPs raised concerns about the Chinese threat.

Video caption, Rishi Sunak says he is limited in what he can say about who is behind ‘malicious act’ on MoD website

“Serious questions”

Tobias Ellwood, former chairman of the Commons Defense Committee, told BBC Radio’s 4 Today programme: “By targeting the payroll names and bank details of military personnel, it points to China because it can to be part of a plan, a strategy to see who might be coerced.

Iain Duncan Smith said the government must admit China poses a threat to the UK.

“Stop pretending, China is a malicious actor, supporting Russia with money and military equipment, working with Iran and North Korea in a new axis of totalitarian states,” he said. he declares.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow defense secretary John Healey said there were “serious questions” for Mr Shapps and “any hostile action of this type was completely unacceptable”.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom said it strongly opposed the notion that China was responsible and had no need to “interfere in China’s internal affairs.” United Kingdom “.

“We urge relevant parties in the UK to stop spreading false information, stop fabricating so-called China threat narratives and stop their anti-China political farce,” a spokesperson said. word.

Last year, the government released an updated version of its long-term defense strategy, which noted that the use of “commercial spyware, ransomware and offensive cyber capabilities by state and non-state actors had proliferated.

Public institutions and private companies have also been targeted by hackers demanding ransoms.

The Metropolitan Police said they were not involved in any investigations at this stage.

Additional reports André Rhoden-Paul

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