Ministers fear China could unleash a devastating online attack on Britain – dubbed a ‘cyber-9/11’ – amid increasing tensions between London and Beijing.
Senior sources say ‘a perfect storm’ of diplomatic rows over Hong Kong, the tech giant Huawei and Covid-19 could lead to an all-out attack by Chinese-backed hackers.
The warning comes as the Government prepares to formally announce a U-turn that would block Huawei from helping build Britain’s superfast 5G mobile network.
The warning comes as the Government prepares to formally announce a U-turn that would block Huawei from helping build Britain’s superfast 5G mobile network (file photo)
After Australia adopted a similar hard line, it was hit by a sustained large-scale cyber attack.
How a wave of ‘revenge attacks’ hit Australia
By Harry Cole
Seventy years ago, the UK was the first major Western country to recognise New China. Over the years, despite twists and turns, [the] China-UK relationship has continued to grow.
The most important lessons we have learnt from the past 70 years are: mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit.
The past 70 years have told us that when these principles were upheld, China-UK relationship would make progress; otherwise, this relationship would suffer setbacks or even retrogression. We hope the British side will draw lessons from history and abide by those principles so as to contribute to the sound and steady development of China-UK relations rather than the opposite.
China is a staunch guardian of cyber-security and also one of the biggest victims of hacking. We oppose and crack down, in accordance with law, all forms of cyber-espionage and attacks. This position is consistent and clear.
Boris Johnson has also infuriated the Chinese Communist Party with his tough stance on Beijing’s clampdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms and calls for an inquiry into the true source of coronavirus, which is suspected to have accidentally leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
Security chiefs fear that, in a worst-case scenario, state-sponsored attacks would cripple computer networks, leading to phone and power blackouts and bringing hospitals, government and businesses to a halt.
In other developments:
- Steve Bannon, who was Donald Trump’s White House Chief Strategist, told The Mail on Sunday that spies were building a case that the Covid-19 pandemic had been caused by a leak from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan – and that the subsequent cover-up amounted to ‘pre-meditated murder’;
- Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons defence select committee, warned that China posed more of a threat to the UK than Soviet Russia did during the Cold War, writing in this newspaper: ‘China is infinitely richer than the USSR ever was. It is also more subtle and long-term in its strategy than anything dreamt up by Stalin or Khrushchev’;
- Respected Chinese virologist Dr Li-Meng Yan – who has fled to America because she ‘knows how [Beijing] treats whistle-blowers’ – claimed the authorities knew about the coronavirus outbreak in December, weeks before admitting it to the world.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has briefed Mr Johnson on the assault on his nation that he said targeted ‘government, industry, political organisations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure’ last month. Although the Australian government did not publicly name China as being responsible, it is understood officials concluded that the attack was linked to tensions with Beijing – despite China denying any involvement.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre says it is not ‘expecting’ a rise in attacks. But as Britain is poised to dramatically harden its relations toward China, Ministers believe there could be brutal retaliation.
One senior Minister said: ‘Obviously this is part of our conversations. But at the same time, all risk must be looked at in the round. Huawei is a menace and not acting on it risks national security. Actions, however, have consequences and they cannot be discounted.’ Last night Shadow Minister Security Minister Conor McGinn said: ‘At this time of heightened tensions, the Government must be alert to the risk of cyber attacks from hostile states and prepare accordingly. Our critical national infrastructure should be ready and able to repel any such attack on the UK.’
Global strategist Dr Alan Mendoza from the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy think-tank added: ‘Far from being a benign friend, China is a strategic competitor with the means to strike at the heart of our infrastructure. China-proofing our critical systems must now become an urgent priority for the Government to avert a possible crisis.’
The fears come as Mr Bannon claimed that experts from the Wuhan laboratory at the centre of global suspicion over the coronavirus pandemic have ‘defected’ and are in the hands of Western intelligence. In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mr Bannon said: ‘I know certain defectors are working with the FBI to try to knit together what happened. I think people are going to be shocked’.
Mr Bannon also called on Mr Johnson to scrap plans to allow Huawei into the UK’s 5G system, describing the tech firm as part of the ‘military wing of the Chinese communist party’.
Tory MP Mr Ellwood added: ‘Any notion that China can be trusted must surely have been dispelled following its initial – and disastrous – attempts to conceal the Covid-19 pandemic. The way of life we take for granted is under real threat.’