Every twelve hours, the FBI launches an investigations into cyber espionage by Chinese government agencies. Britain’s MI5 investigates suspicious Chinese activity seven times more often than in 2018. The intelligence agencies warn of a growing cyber threat from China.
The directors of the FBI and MI5 spoke at an event in London. Christopher Wray leads the FBI. Ken McCallum heads the British MI5. The directors claim that the Chinese government is sponsoring hackers to spy on Western organizations.
“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology —whatever it is that makes your industry tick — and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market”, Wray told an audience of executives and professors at MI5 headquarters. “They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.”
The words are heavy. Wray revealed that the FBI launches an investigation into cyber espionage by Chinese government agencies every twelve hours. McCallum added that MI5 reviews suspicious Chinese activity seven times more often than in 2018.
Wray calls on organizations to be cautious when collaborating with Chinese companies. According to the director, the Chinese government is using companies with Western partners to steal trade secrets. Wray and McCallum emphasise that the warning is not about Chinese residents, but about the state and state-owned companies.
It’s important to understand that China and the United States are waging a trade war. Huawei is an example of the organizations Wray warns about. Most American companies are prohibited from doing business with Huawei. The organisation is accused of espionage in the US.
In Europe, things are different. Brussels advises member states to do their own research. In the Netherlands, Huawei equipment wasn’t used in the construction of 5G networks. The government asked major providers to refuse ‘untrusted’ suppliers. Shortly afterwards, Huawei announced its departure from the Netherlands. The details are unknown, as the situation was declared a state secret.
Apart from Huawei, the relationship between the Netherlands and China is incomparable to the US. According to the European Union, the Netherlands was the world’s largest importer of Chinese products in 2021. This means that Dutch organizations regularly work with the Chinese companies that the FBI and MI5 warn about. It’s clear that the central government has a different image of China.
The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. The NCTV, a Dutch anti-terrorist agency, recently warned about Chinese cyberattacks as well. The NCTV clarified that attackers are mainly interested in chip technology. The NCTV’s advice drastically differs from that of the FBI and MI5. The report does not focus on the risks of cooperating with Chinese companies, but the importance of technical security measures.