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The heads of the FBI and MI5 have warned that China is carrying out cyber espionage on a massive scale, carrying out more hacking than every other major country combined.

In their first ever joint address, MI5 director general Ken McCallum and FBI director Chris Wray warned that China represents the biggest long-term threat to economic and national security.

“If you are involved in cutting-edge tech, AI, advanced research or product development, the chances are your know-how is of material interest to the CCP,” said McCallum.

“And if you have, or are trying for, a presence in the Chinese market, you’ll be subject to more attention than you might think. It’s been described as ‘the biggest wealth transfer in human history’.”

He said that MI5 is now running seven times as many investigations into Chinese activity as it was in 2018; meanwhile, the FBI is opening two new counterintelligence investigations into China per day.

The comments were made at a speech to business leaders and senior academics at MI5 headquarters in Thames House, London.

Wray highlighted the way the Chinese government exploits multiple avenues at once.

“They identify key technologies needed to dominate markets, like the ones they highlight in their Made in China 2025 plan. Then, they throw every tool in their arsenal at stealing those technologies – causing deep, job-destroying damage across a wide range of industries, like when they tried to steal cutting edge jet engine technology, recruiting an insider at GE’s joint venture partner to enable access by hackers back in China,” he said.

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“Or in another example, combining human spying with hacking in a joint effort to try to steal Covid research from one of our universities.”

The two warned executives to be wary of job offers or technology deals, saying that they may unwittingly be dealing with Chinese intelligence officers. In one example, said McCallum, a British aviation expert was receuited online, traveling twice to China where he was wined and dined. He was then asked – and paid – for detailed technical information on military aircraft.

Meanwhile, said Wray, China’s “lavishly resourced hacking program” has seen, foe example, Chinese hackers leveraging targeting Microsoft Exchange Server software to install more than 10,000 webshells, or backdoors, on US networks.

And the pair urged companies to take advantage of the help that’s available.

“Reach out to our advisers – through established channels if you have them, or through LinkedIn or the CPNI website. The teams are there to give you expert insights into the risks you face, and to work with you to make your organisation a hard nut to crack,” said McCallum.

“If you are worried about something that’s happened, report it. Anything you tell us will be handled with discretion. Even better, of course, is to engage before you have a problem – mend the roof when the sun is shining, not when it’s raining hard.”

The UK and US have been moving closer in terms of their attitude to China, with the UK pledging last year to remove all equipment supplied by Huawei from its 5G networks by the end of 2027.

In a statement, Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, claims that US politicians “have been tarnishing China’s image and painting China as a threat with false accusations”.

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