China vs UK: Hackers launch bizarre impersonation campaign against senior Tory MP
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Tom Tugendhat, who is Chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Tonbridge and Malling, said there had been attempts to access his email account, as well as discredit him professionally and personally. The NCSC has been called in to investigate the attacks on his communications and attempts to impersonate him online. Security experts from search engine giant Google also investigated the origins of “spoof” email accounts set up to mimic Mr Tugendhat, revealing users were predominantly based in China.
More evidence was found of hackers from China, Iran and Ethiopia trying to hack into his email account, but the Tory MP said it is impossible to know whether any of the attempts had been successful.
Mr Tugendhat said: “It strikes me as extremely unlikely that it was not state-led if it was from China.
“It doesn’t have to have been literally sent by their version of GCHQ, but in some way state-supported.”
The chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee first became suspicious when he was contacted by a journalist from the South China Morning Post last year.
The reporter had asked about a press releases that had seemingly been issued by him , which left Mr Tugendhat completely baffled.
Mr Tugendhat’s family and friends then received unlikely emails that appeared to be from him, using addresses similar to his own, which made false claims about his personal life.
The Tory MP said initially he had been left surprised by the “spoofing” campaign and questioned the motives behind it.
He also told the Times: “I presume it is designed to cause a nuisance and cause confusion.
“It’s designed to warn you off and let you know ‘we’re here’.”
But Mr Tugendhat, who also is co-founder of the parliamentary China Research Group, denied he was scared by the campaign, and and said: “It’s just rather pathetic.”
He believes the strange activity began when he became more outspoken about China’s activities in Hong Kong.
Speaking during an interview on Times Radio that was broadcast on Tuesday morning, he elaborated on the content in some of the fake emails.
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One claimed to be an announcement of a change in UK foreign policy, but Mr Tugendhat clarified: “As anybody knows, foreign affairs committee chairs don’t announce policy on behalf of Governments.”
Despite the targeted campaign, the Tory MP insisted he would not be deterred from speaking publicly on subjects that might raise eyebrows in China.
He added: “I’m not going to let foreign dictators decide who speaks for parliament on foreign affairs.”
The bizarre campaign directed towards Mr Tugendhat is the latest in a series of similar attacks felt by other critics of China.
Benedict Rogers, chairman of UK-based advocacy organisation Hong Kong Watch, has been the victim of a postal campaign since 2018.
Like Mr Tugendhat, he is standing firm, and said: “I must be doing something right to provoke this kind of response.”
The NCSC said it “works closely with political parties, local authorities and MPs, who are offered access to the best cyber-security guidance and support”.
Tensions between the UK and China have escalated to alarming levels over recent weeks after Beijing imposed a controversial new security law on Hong Kong.
Earlier this month, Dominic Raab announced the UK would suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong over security.
The Foreign Secretary told parliament the treaty would be immediately suspended and an arms embargo would also be extended to Hong Kong.
He said: “We will not consider reactivating those arrangements, unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards, which are able to prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the new national security legislation.”
But this sparked a furious response from Beijing, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry warning: “China urges the UK to relinquish the illusion to continue its colonial influence in Hong Kong, immediately correct its mistakes, and stop interfering with Chinese domestic affairs to avoid further damage to bilateral relations.”
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