A number of think tanks in the UK that specialise in discussing issues pertaining to defence and international security were hacked by Chinese hackers last year, security firm Crowdstrike has revealed.
Aside from targeting UK-based think tanks, Chinese hackers also targeted law firms, universities, and technology firms across the globe last year.
In its global threat report for 2018, security firm Crowdstrike revealed that a number of influential think thanks in the UK were targeted by Chinese hackers since April last year, with some of them succeeding. The firm added that it had been contacted by several think tanks who wanted the firm to investigate such attacks.
It added that the group responsible for attacks on UK-based think tanks is "Panda" which is China-based and is believed to be linked to the Chinese government.
“They do believe the think tanks are very influential both in the US and UK. They believe that they may have access to information which is not public. In some cases [that] can be true, because you do have a lot of informal channels that these think tank people will have with government officials," said Dmitri Alperovitch, Crowdstrike’s co-founder and CTO to the BBC.
Aside from assisting think tanks in the UK to protect themselves from future attacks, Crowdstrick is also assisting the US government in investigating hacking incidents during the US presidential election which the US believes was conducted by Russia-based hacker groups.
Last year, a number of security experts in the UK red-flagged the possible acquisition of Hertfordshire-based Imagination Technologies by a US-based firm that had links to the Chinese government, stating that such an acquisition would allow China to enjoy a microchip monopoly and to spy on British armed forces.
Canyon Bridge, the California-based private equity firm that won the bid to acquire Imagination Technologies, was secretly backed by Yitai Capital and was created with funds from the Chinese government. In the United States, the firm's acquisition of Lattice Semiconductor, a US chip-maker, was blocked by the Trump administration who feared that the acquisition would place national security at risk.
Earlier this year, Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute who was the former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, accused the NATO of being hesitant in leading a cyber defence policy to block or to respond to Russian and Chinese hackers.
Even though NATO formally recognised cyber warfare as a traditional area of battle, aside from land, sea and air in 2013, it is yet to militarise their internet and create walls that could deter professional hackers sponsored by enemy states.
On the other hand, firewalls and controls set up by Russian and Chinese governments enable their hackers to hide behind such boundaries to escape detection after committing cyber attacks on European infrastructure and political institutions, he said.