ANALYSIS: New Zealand is standing with its traditional partners in condemning the Chinese Governments role in cyberattacks that affected people around the globe earlier this year.
The move is an overt one that comes as the New Zealand Government continues to try to balance a values-based independent foreign policy with maintaining relationships with the countrys largest trading partner, and commentators say it could cause issues.
Late on Monday, the Government released a statement condemning Chinas state-sponsored cyberattacks in a co-ordinated move with countries and alliances across the world including the United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union and Nato.
Andrew Little, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau, said the Government condemned cyberattacks by Chinese sponsored-actors both in New Zealand and around the world, including one on Microsoft earlier in the year.
READ MORE:* Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says global effort needed to confront cyber attacks* Australia Defence Minister vows to call out China, saying the public supports government’s stance* Government briefings say threats to New Zealand grow with a ‘receding’ world order
We call for an end to this type of malicious activity, which undermines global stability and security, he said.
A number of countries including New Zealand accused the Chinese-sponsored cyberattacks of breaching Microsoft systems earlier this year. At the time Microsoft said it had detected hackers inside its servers who had access not only to emails but also to other sensitive corporate data and intellectual property.
Commentators say the attack on Microsoft went further than prior Chinese attacks as it was less targeted. Rather than hacking for a specific reason, such as espionage or intellectual property theft to help Chinese businesses, they were scooping up a lot of information in the hopes of finding something useful.
Microsoft said earlier this year that it had detected hackers inside their servers. New Zealand says they were Chinese.
Furthermore, the vulnerabilities they found enabled other cyberattackers to access servers for their own purposes, which resulted in further attacks and companies being targeted with ransomware.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in New Zealand said the claims of Chinas involvement were totally groundless and irresponsible. New Zealand says it has confirmed the links to Chinese actors.
However, the embassy spokesman says they had already reached out to the Government to express strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition.
The widespread global condemnation has come at a time of heightened tensions between China and the United States and its allies on a number of fronts because of concerns about Chinas treatment of its neighbours in the South China Sea and disergard for international law, treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, crackdowns in Hong Kong, and increased use of non-tariff trade barriers.
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
China has been blamed for significant cyberattacks earlier this year.
Robert G Patman, a professor of international relations at the University of Otago, said a number of commentators had called New Zealands decision to come out against Chinas state-sponsored cyberattacks courageous. However, the country did not really have a choice, he said.
What was the choice if we didnt say anything and everyone else did? Politics is often the choice between the disagreeable and intolerable.
Patman said he believed the Government has been cognisant that they were going to have to take a stronger stance with China over the past few months, given Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta recently urged exporters to diversify as quickly as possible.
These were cyberattacks on New Zealand citizens, which made them a direct issue for the country and increased the countrys need to respond, according to commentators.
Some people say a full-scale cyberattack could be almost as bad as an event of mass destruction, said Alexander Gillespie, a professor of international law at the University of Waikato. He said that while it wouldnt be as instantaneous, the impact of shutting down water and electricity or ATM machines could be significant.
The risk of this [the attacks] going further means we have to speak up, he said.
Cybersecurity is an ever-growing problem for New Zealand. According to the most recent data available, 352 cyber incidents were recorded here in the year ended on June 30, 2020, up from 339 in the prior year, the GCSB said. Of those, there were indications that 30 per cent were linked to players sponsored by foreign governments.
Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said that as cyberattacking escalated it could start to affect people in ways that hadnt been seen before and the damage could be extensive.
However, he noted that the statements from countries were uneven and that at this stage it was just words.
Calling China out on its own is going to do very little, he said.
China has been found to be involved in cyberattacks prior to the Microsoft server incident, but the broadness of the recent incident called for stronger actions.
Dmitri Alperovitch, the chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a US-based think tank that worked to modernise US cybersecurity policy, said that if China hadnt been confronted, it would be emboldened to carry out more such attacks, which meant even countries with significant trading relationships felt they had to call out the behaviour.
This is unprecedented in terms of the coalition that came together, he said.
The US had also laid charges against four Chinese nationals. Prosecutors said those charged were working with Chinas Ministry of State Security in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including those of companies, universities and government entities.
Alperovitch said sanctions might also follow, given the US has penalised other countries in the past such as Iran and North Korea for their cyber activities.
This activity needs to be confronted, he said.

You may also like