Suspected China hack hits UK’s defense ministry

LONDON — Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been hit by a suspected Chinese cyber-attack.

The hack targeted an MoD payroll system which includes names and bank details of current and former armed forces members.

Every troop apart from the U.K.’s special forces was affected, amounting to around 270,000 people. The breach also includes a few thousand home addresses.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps will update the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon.

Although he is not expected to directly name Beijing in his statement, Sky News, which first broke the story, reported that China is in the frame. Officials told POLITICO’s London Playbook newsletter their work had not cleared the high bar for public attribution.

Conservative MPs were quick to point the finger at Beijing. Tory MP and former Defense Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood told Sky China “was probably looking at the financially vulnerable with a view that they may be coerced in exchange for cash.”

Pressed on the reports Tuesday morning, U.K. Cabinet minister Mel Stride told the same broadcaster that the MoD “acted very swiftly to take this database offline” and that the government takes cyber security “extremely seriously.” He declined to pin the blame on China.

MPs are expected to hear from Shapps that a full investigation is being launched, including into whether there were failings at an unnamed private contractor. The MoD will be contacting all affected troops and veterans Tuesday.

A U.K. Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The Defence Secretary will make a planned statement to the House of Commons this afternoon setting out the multi-point plan to support and protect personnel.”

Labour’s Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey said there are “many serious questions to answer.”

The British government earlier this year accused “Chinese state-affiliated actors” of being behind two separate “malicious” attacks on Britain’s electoral watchdog and MPs themselves.

China’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters Tuesday it opposes cyber-attacks and dismissed the report as “absurd.”