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Behind China’s hack of UK’s Electoral Commission

The UK government has accused China of hacking the UK Electoral Commission, gaining access to information about millions of voters.

In the aftermath of the incident, the UK and US governments have sanctioned a company that is a front for the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology, and affiliated individuals for their involvement in the breach and for placing malware in critical infrastructure.

The UK and many other countries have growing concerns over cyber operations that target national security, technological innovation and economic interests. China has been linked to state-sponsored cyber espionage activities for some time. Targets have included foreign governments, businesses and critical infrastructure.

While China is not inherently a threat to the UK, the two countries have a complex relationship that is characterized by both cooperation and competition.

China has economic influence over the UK and the two compete on innovation. But China’s military ambitions, human rights record and reputation for covert influence campaigns require careful diplomatic and strategic management.

It’s not clear what precisely motivated the attack on the Electoral Commission but such attacks are generally linked to various strategic interests. States may target foreign electoral organizations with the aim of influencing election results or more generally to undermine democratic processes, including by damaging trust among voters. They may seek leverage with whatever information they gather, either economically or in terms of global positioning.

These activities are not unique to China. In a deeply connected and increasingly digitized world, many states are strategically motivated to engage