G7 nations tell China to ‘act responsibly’ in cyberspace

G7 leaders and other world leaders gather for a portrait at the annual conference in Puglia, Italy.

G7 leaders and other world leaders gather for a portrait at the annual conference in Puglia, Italy. Alessandra Benedetti via Getty Images

The nations have frequently pointed to China as a top cyber adversary.

The Group of Seven member nations said China must do its part to “act responsibly” in the cyberspace domain and vowed to stop any damaging hacking activity linked to Beijing.

On the second day of the 50th G7 Summit in Italy, the nations said they will “disrupt and deter persistent, malicious cyber activity stemming from China, which threatens our citizens’ safety and privacy, undermines innovation, and puts our critical infrastructure at risk.”

The coalition — which consists of the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — has frequently spotlighted Chinese operations in the cyber domain, pointing to efforts where its digital warriors have embedded themselves into critical infrastructure or covertly surveyed social media for political influence campaigns.

Among the top digital adversaries of the United States and its allies, China has been designated by researchers and officials as a preparative operator in cyberspace, planting the seeds for future activity or scoping out networks for weaknesses that can be exploited at a later time.

Threat researchers have noted Chinese state hacking activities improved toward a more mature, coordinated and clandestine tradecraft compared to previous years. Many recent American cyber advisories have included overseas intelligence partner signatories.

Spy agencies believe that a China-backed hacking collective known as Volt Typhoon has been quietly tunneling into critical infrastructure, like power grids and pipelines, in preparation for potential U.S. military conflict with Beijijng, officials say. The operation has alarmed diplomats, who told China in a meeting last month to stop the activity altogether.

A leading Chinese diplomat fired back against the G7 comments. 

"We oppose any groundless smears and accusations against China. In fact, China is a major victim of cyberattacks. We keep a firm stance against all forms of cyber attacks and resort to lawful methods in tackling them. China does not encourage, support or condone attacks launched by hackers," Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. said in an emailed statement. "Keeping the cyberspace safe is a global challenge. As is the case with other issues, false accusations or bloc confrontation will only damage the collective response to the threats the world faces on cybersecurity. We hope relevant parties adopt a constructive and responsible stance and work with China to protect cybersecurity."

A February 2023 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence speculates that if Beijing feared imminent Sino-American conflict, “it almost certainly would consider undertaking aggressive cyber operations against U.S. homeland critical infrastructure and military assets worldwide” and carry them out in a way that would induce societal panic. 

The intergovernmental group first put cyber and digital policy on its priorities list in 2016. Last month, the nations committed to increase information-sharing between their intelligence counterparts to better detect growing disinformation threats.

“We are resolute in countering strategic threats and in holding malicious cyber actors to account. Our relevant institutions will intensify their work on enhancing information exchange and coordination,” the group said Friday.

The U.S. is expanding its reach in international cybersecurity affairs as adversarial nations work to use their own internet and telecom standards bodies to push what officials view as dangerous agendas that plant seeds for cyberattacks. 

The U.S. said in a strategy released last month it will commit to engaging international partners, building coalitions and developing new capabilities focused on quickly aiding allies in cyberspace, as part of a broad push to achieve “digital solidarity” in the global internet ecosystem.

This article was updated on June 14 with additional comment.

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