New Zealand to world: China attacked us, too!

Reveals 2021 incident that saw parliamentary agencies briefly probed

The government of South Pacific island nation New Zealand has revealed that it, too, has been attacked by China.

A Tuesday announcement penned by attorney-general and minister of defence Judith Collins reveals that in 2021 the nation's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and National Cyber Security Center (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 state-sponsored group known as APT40."

The Parliamentary Counsel Office drafts and publishes legislation, while the Parliamentary Service – as you'd imagine – runs the nation's parliament.

Collins described networks at the two agencies as containing "important information that enables the effective operation of the New Zealand government."

Fortunately, 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 wrote that New Zealand's parliamentary agencies have since improved their defenses. If they've been breached since, she hasn't said.

New Zealand's admission it's been on the receiving end came a day after the UK and United States detailed Chinese-supported attacks on government institutions – including the UK's Electoral Register.

Australia's foreign minister Penny Wong and home affairs minister Claire O'Neill joined in a chorus of criticism, expressing "serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China state-backed actors targeting UK democratic institutions and parliamentarians."

China, for what it's worth, regularly criticizes other nations for attacking its infrastructure, but seldom details incidents more recent than those revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

However Reuters recently reported that in 2019 the Trump administration authorized the CIA to conduct an influence campaign that used Chinese social media to discredit the nation's government.

One of the reasons the US has sought to compel the sale of TikTok's stateside operations is the potential for China to order the production and publication of content that expresses Beijing's desired messages – perhaps as part of an effort to influence political discourse.

Such actions are felt to be harder for Western nations to achieve due to asymmetric access to China's internet: the Great Firewall keeps non-Chinese actors out, but the likes of Facebook, X, and Reddit don't geo-block users. ®

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