Tory MP believes he was victim of ‘state-supported’ cyber campaign after China criticism

Written by Alain Tolhurst on 29 July 2020 in News
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Foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat says false claims and fake press releases were sent to friends and professional contacts

Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

A senior Conservative MP has accused Chinese hackers of impersonating him online to try and discredit him after he criticised Beijing.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said professional contacts received bizarre fake press releases, while friends and family were sent untrue claims about his private life.

He told Times Radio many of the emails were “pretty pathetic really”, but were designed to be “problematic” and only began after he started speaking out against China.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) were called in to examine the attacks on his communications, along with Google’s security team.


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They found the spoof emails originated in China, and Tugendhat (pictured above) said it was “extremely unlikely that it was not state-led”.

He added: “It doesn’t have to have been literally [sent] by their version of GCHQ, but in some way state-supported.”

The former army intelligence officer said he first became suspicious when he was contacted by the South China Morning Post about a press release he was said to have sent but had no knowledge of. After that, people he knew said they had received emails purported to be him saying he was leaving his wife and was moving in with another man, all of which were untrue.

They began at the end of last year when Tugendhat, who is co-founder of the parliamentary China Research Group, became more outspoken about Beijing’s activities in Hong Kong.

But he said he would not be cowed into silence by the campaign, saying: “I was elected to speak up on foreign affairs for parliament, and that's what I intend to do. And if my colleagues in parliament feel that somebody else should do it that's up to them – but I'm not going to let foreign dictators decide who speaks for parliament on foreign affairs.”

The 47-year-old praised the NCSC, who found evidence that Iranian and Ethiopian hackers – who often work on behalf of Russian actors – had also attempted to breach his email account.

Tugendhat added: “But, sadly, I think this is one of those areas that you know, no matter how good we are now, we're going to have to get much better. Because as more and more things move online, the nature of influence is going to move online too. Just as we put ships around the world 200 years ago to guard the sea lanes and communications, basically that's what the Royal Navy did, I think we now need all of us, not just the United Kingdom, need effectively a new form of the Navy if you like to guard the airlines, the lanes of communication, and make sure that commerce and information can flow freely.”

 

About the author

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @Alain_Tolhurst.

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