New Zealand joins US and UK in alleging it was targeted by China-backed cyberespionage

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Hackers linked to the Chinese government launched a state-sponsored operation that targeted New Zealand’s Parliament in 2021, the country’s security minister said on Tuesday.

New Zealand’s allegation comes a day after American and British authorities announced a set of criminal charges and sanctions against seven hackers, all believed to be living in China, who targeted U.S. officials, journalists, corporations, pro-democracy activists and the U.K.’s election watchdog.

“The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable,” Minister Responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Judith Collins said in a media statement.

Collins said the agency had also established links between a state-sponsored actor linked to China and malicious cyber activity targeting parliamentary entities in New Zealand.

“The GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) completed a robust technical assessment following a compromise of the Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Parliamentary Service in 2021, and has attributed this activity to a PRC (China) state-sponsored group known as APT40,” Collins says.

“Fortunately, in this instance, the NCSC worked with the impacted organizations to contain the activity and remove the actor shortly after they were able to access the network.”

Collins said New Zealand will not follow the U.S. and U.K. in sanctioning China as New Zealand does not have a law allowing such penalties, nor were there plans to introduce legislation.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters confirmed New Zealand’s concerns had been conveyed to the Chinese Ambassador Wang Xiaolong.

“Foreign interference of this nature is unacceptable, and we have urged China to refrain from such activity in future,” Peters said in a statement Tuesday.

“New Zealand will continue to speak out – consistently and predictably – where we see concerning behaviors like this.”

Peters met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last week and said the countries share a “significant and complex relationship”.

“We cooperate with China in some areas for mutual benefit,” he said. ”At the same time, we have also been consistent and clear that we will speak out on issues of concern.”

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