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Mystery of alleged Chinese hack on eve of Ukraine invasion

Allegations of Chinese cyber activity as the recent conflict broke out in Ukraine have been emerging. 

The details appear unusually murky but one Western intelligence official believes the aim was espionage – and the cyber-attack may have been broader than previously reported.

The Times first reported that hackers, alleged to be based in China, began targeting Ukrainian websites on 23 February, the day before the invasion. 

That led to questions as to whether they had advance notice of Moscow’s plans and if their intention was somehow to support Russia. 

A broad set of Ukrainian government and commercial organisations were said to have been targeted by hackers, including organisations linked to nuclear power.

It is unclear how far this activity was scanning for vulnerabilities online and how many websites were actually compromised.

But the aim looks to have been espionage – stealing secrets – rather than the kind of sabotage operations which Russia was accused of carrying out just before the invasion, and when it started.

The Times cited intelligence documents – but the Ukrainian security service denied they had handed anything over and seemed to downplay the revelations, adding to confusion. 

Some analysts wondered if they were worried about antagonising Beijing. 

On Monday, the Chinese embassy in the UK rejected the claim and described the Times report as “sheer irresponsible talk and not credible at all”.

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