U.S. and Britain Accuse China of Cyberespionage Campaign

The United States and Britain imposed sanctions on China’s elite hacking units on Monday, accusing Beijing’s top spy agency of a yearslong effort to place malware in America’s electrical grids, defense systems and other critical infrastructure, and of stealing the voting rolls for 40 million British citizens.

Taken together, the actions on both sides of the Atlantic underscored the escalation of cyberconflict between the Western allies and Beijing, in vastly different spheres.

American intelligence agencies have warned that the malware found in U.S. infrastructure appeared to be intended for use if the United States were coming to the aid of Taiwan. The theory is that Americans would be too tied up worrying about their own supplies of electricity, food and water to help a distant island that Beijing claims as its own.

Separately, the Justice Department indicted individual Chinese hackers for what Attorney General Merrick B. Garland called a 14-year effort “to target and intimidate” Beijing’s critics around the world.

The motive behind the British intrusion was more mysterious. That attack involved stealing the voter registration data — mostly names and addresses — of tens of millions of people, as well an attempt to hack into the accounts of members of Parliament. Britain had revealed the voter hack long ago but never said who was responsible.

On Monday, it announced sanctions against the same state-directed group involved in the American hack, a sharp rebuke that underlined the hardening of Britain’s stance toward China since British leaders heralded a “golden era” in relations between the countries nearly a decade ago.

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