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Chinese government-linked hackers allegedly targeted New Zealand in 2021, security minister says

In 2021, New Zealand's security minister accused hackers associated with the Chinese government of launching a cyber operation targeting the country's Parliament.

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 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 and pro-democracy activists, as well as the U.K.’s election watchdog.

"The use of cyber-enabled espionage operations to interfere with democratic institutions and processes anywhere is unacceptable," Judith Collins, the defense minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau, said in a statement.


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

The bureau's National Cyber Security Centre "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 said.

"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," she added.

Collins said New Zealand will not follow the U.S. and U.K. in sanctioning China because 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 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, on March 18, 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."

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian dismissed the allegations as "typical political manipulation" concocted by the U.S. and U.K., with whom it is in conflict over issues including Taiwan, the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and a wide range of trade disputes.

"For some time, the U.S., for geopolitical purposes, has encouraged the Five Eyes Alliance, the world’s largest intelligence organization dominated by the U.S., to fabricate and disseminate all kinds of disinformation about threats posed by Chinese hackers," Lin said at a daily briefing Tuesday, citing the alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S. to collect and share sensitive information.

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