What Chinese hackers want

27 min listen

Over the last week the UK has been rocked by allegations that China was responsible for two cyber attacks in recent years – one on the Electoral Commission, where hackers successfully accessed the open register, which has the details of 40 million voters; and a set of attempts to access the emails of a number of China critics within parliament. So what do we know about China’s cyber capabilities? What are its goals? And now that the UK knows about these attacks, what should we be doing? Joining me on the podcast today is Nigel Inkster, senior advisor for cyber security and China at the think tank IISS, formerly director

What we know about Beijing’s spies

32 min listen

Two years ago, Richard Moore, head of MI6, said that China was now the organisation’s ‘single greatest priority’. Parliamentarians and the British public have been starkly reminded of this by last week’s news that a parliamentary researcher had been arrested on suspicion of spying for China. On this episode, we won’t be commenting on the ins and outs of that case, but talking more generally about Chinese espionage. What forms does it take, what are its goals and how successful are the Chinese secret services at achieving those? I’m joined by a brilliant and knowledgeable guest. Nigel Inkster is the former director of operations and intelligence for MI6. He has

The bored teenagers who can disrupt the world

Most of us live a strange double life when it comes to hacking. We read headlines saying that our toaster might spy on us, that Russia is trying to hack into our social media, and that society as a whole could be under threat. At the same time, we install smart speakers in every room of our house, post more than ever to social media, and the worst we see of hacking attempts is the occasional email from a Nigerian ‘prince’. Trying to calibrate whether we should be terrified or unconcerned is a difficult task, so it’s refreshing when Scott Shapiro – a Yale law professor who also serves as

The heist: nobody is safe from Russia’s digital pirates

In April, the Harris network of London schools was held to ransom by hackers. ‘The first thing I did was panic,’ said Sir Dan Moynihan, the chief executive. It wasn’t simply that their computers didn’t work; many of the 50 schools couldn’t function. Some couldn’t open because their internet-controlled doors were jammed shut. A demand for £3 million arrived. Moynihan pointed out this was a ‘completely insane’ amount for an educational charity to pay — but his pleas through an intermediary were ignored. The hackers insisted that unless Harris paid up, the schools would continue to be locked out of their networks, and sensitive data would be leaked online too.

I was held to ransom by hackers

I’m the owner of two small galleries which sell 20th-century ceramics and artworks. One of the ways we’ve become known is through Instagram. We’ve got almost 50,000 followers and sell a lot of work through there. In May, I was away for the weekend with friends in Somerset. On Saturday morning, I saw an email in our shared work account (purporting to be) from Instagram. It was congratulating us for getting a blue tick — verification that confirms the account is an ‘authentic presence’. Thrilled, I clicked the link in the email to confirm. It took me to an official-looking Instagram page where I entered our login details. I was

The age of cyber warfare is a threat to us all

In his recent State of the Nation address, Vladimir Putin said that if challenged by another state, Russia’s response would be swift, harsh and ‘asymmetrical’. An unusual word, but anyone who has been paying attention to the developments in cyber warfare will know what he means. Despite Russia pulling back more than 100,000 soldiers positioned on the Ukrainian border, British troops will shortly join Ukrainian counterparts to prepare for any misadventures from the Kremlin. And if a conflict were to escalate, the action may not be limited to faraway battlefields. It might involve cyberattacks, which would hit us at home. This, too, is a threat the Ministry of Defence seeks

Beware the rise of state-sponsored cyberattacks

In November 2014, a glowing red skeleton appeared on the computer screens of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment. ‘Hacked,’ began the accompanying message. It went on to explain that Sony data had been stolen and would be released to the world. ‘This is only the beginning,’ it warned. Gossipy emails about Angelina Jolie, licensing problems around the character of Spider-Man, and the script of the next James Bond film were all leaked online and lapped up by showbusiness reporters. Then things became much more serious. The hackers threatened a terror attack against the premiere of Seth Rogen’s film The Interview, which mocked North Korea and its leader. The studio capitulated,

These Russian cyber-attacks are a wake up call for the UK

Days before the release of the becalmed Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) report on Russian political interference, we suddenly started to hear news of Moscow’s meddling on Thursday. It’s almost as if the government, sensitive about appearing like it wants to bury the report, suddenly wants to steal the thunder and look serious. Surely not. Putting cynicism aside, it is worth taking a proper look at these two new stories of Russian interference and what they tell us about what Moscow is and isn’t doing – and, more to the point, what it can and cannot do. The first story is a leak about a leak. Ahead of the ISC

Trick or treat: the pros and cons of being hacked

The phone rang at 9 a.m. on Monday, with an old friend from Italy saying: ‘Of course I’ll do you a favour, my dear, but you don’t say what it is.’ I thought he’d finally lost his marbles (always a possibility with friends my age) but he said I’d just sent him an email asking if he would do me a favour. I hadn’t sent any emails that morning so I was mystified. As soon as I put the phone down, another friend rang saying of course he would help, but he was on Hampstead Heath and it would have to wait till he got home. But what had to