1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UK says Defense Ministry targeted in cyberattack

May 7, 2024

The British Defense Ministry has reported a large-scale cyberattack that targeted the personal information of the UK's armed forces. Sources say that China is suspected of being involved.

The UK Ministry of Defence
The breach is believed to have included names, bank details and in some cases personal addressesImage: Stefan Kiefer/imageBROKER/picture alliance

The United Kingdom's government on Tuesday said it had observed a significant data breach that targeted the personal information of members of the British military. 

While London has not named the actor behind the attack, it is understood that the main suspect is the Chinese state

What we know so far

Tobias Ellwood, an ex-soldier and former chairman of a parliamentary defense committee, said the attack had targeted a third-party payroll system used by the Defense Ministry. The former minister said it had all the hallmarks of a Chinese cyberattack.

"Targeting the names of the payroll system and service personnel's bank details, this does point to China because it can be as part of a plan, a strategy to see who might be coerced,", Ellwood told the BBC.

Work and Pensions Minister Mel Stride confirmed the attack on behalf of the government, adding that it was a "very significant matter."

Hackers threaten critical infrastructure

It is believed that names, bank details, and in some cases the personal addresses of serving and former armed forces members were compromised. However, Stride said his government was not yet naming China as the culprit, only that it was "an assumption."

Beijing said the accusations were "utter nonsense." 

"China has always firmly opposed and cracked down on all types of cyberattacks," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian. 

How serious is the threat of Chinese hacking?

Both Britain and the United States in March alleged that hackers connected with the Chinese government had targeted US officials, journalists, corporations, pro-democracy activists, and the UK election watchdog with "malicious" cyberattacks. 

The British government said in a statement that a part of its GCHQ intelligence agency "assessed that the UK Electoral Commission systems were highly likely compromised by a Chinese state-affiliated entity between 2021 and 2022."

London and Washington imposed sanctions on several individuals, and the US charged seven alleged hackers believed to be living in China. The individuals were part of the China-based hacking group "APT31."

China denied responsibility and said countries should base their accusations on evidence rather than engaging in "completely fabricated and malicious slanders."

rc/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)