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Published: 9th May 2024 | In: Insights, Threat Intelligence & Guidance

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Throughout the past few months, the Quorum Cyber Threat Intelligence team has detected significant changes within the cyber threat landscape as it pertains to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). We have been tracking these developments and have provided a timeline of events. 

March 2024

In March, the UK Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, addressed the UK Parliament regarding a wave of Chinese state-backed cyber interference, involving accessing personal data of 40 million voters and targeting a group of influential figures, including senior Members of Parliament. The operation has been attributed with a high level of confidence to the Chinese state-actor, tracked as Violet Typhoon and we have assessed that these efforts will likely continue targeting governments in the West due to the UK being a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which is an international alliance of democratic parliaments that are critical of the policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

April 2024

In April, we detected a significant development within China’s malign influence posture as cyber actors supporting the CCP started to leverage generative artificial intelligence (AI) to create and enhance images and videos by manipulating the public perception of both the US President Joe Biden and the current Republican Party forerunner, Donald Trump. We have assessed that this was an attempt to alter the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election in November of this year to shape the global information domain in favour of Chinese interests. 

Later in the month, on 19th April, Beijing established a new branch of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), known as the Information Support Force, or ISF, that is dedicated to cyber operations and will function co-equally with the government’s Cyberspace and Military Aerospace Forces. The Chinese government stated that the ISF will “build a network information system that meets the requirements of modern warfare and promote the accelerated improvement of the system’s combat capabilities with high quality”. With the PLA aiming to close the gap between itself and the US by its 100th anniversary in 2027, we have assessed that this development almost certainly reflects Beijing’s objective of creating a cutting-edge military force by 2035 by bolstering PLA information capabilities across multiple domains – including both terrestrial and space-based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), as well as electronic warfare, relating to both offensive and defensive cyber efforts. 

May 2024

Most recently, on 7th May, Westminster officials reported that they suspected that the Chinese Government was behind a cyber operation involving the breach of a third-party payment system used by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). However, there is not sufficient intelligence to verify this attribution with any degree of certainty as of the time of this writing. Further, Britain’s defence minister, Grant Shapps, urged caution following reports that China was suspected of hacking the third-party payment system used by the armed forces. 

Finally, it should be noted that although the UK and US government have asserted Beijing’s cyber capabilities in all of the events outlined above, China has publicly declared that these claims are false and misleading.