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China bugs, blackmails UK execs

British business executives dealing with China were given a formal warning more than a year ago by Britain’s security service, MI5, that Chinese intelligence agencies were engaged in a wide-ranging effort to hack into British companies’ computers and to blackmail British businesspeople over sexual relationships and other improprieties, according to people familiar with the document.

world Updated: Feb 02, 2010 01:07 IST

British business executives dealing with China were given a formal warning more than a year ago by Britain’s security service, MI5, that Chinese intelligence agencies were engaged in a wide-ranging effort to hack into British companies’ computers and to blackmail British businesspeople over sexual relationships and other improprieties, according to people familiar with the document.

The warning, in a 14-page document titled “The Threat from Chinese Espionage,” was prepared in 2008 by MI5’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, and distributed in what security officials described as a “restricted” form to hundreds of British banks and other financial institutions and businesses.

The document followed public warnings from senior MI5 officials that China posed “one of the most significant espionage threats” to Britain.

Details of the document were confirmed on Sunday by two people familiar with its contents, who both spoke on an anonymous basis because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The Sunday Times account, quoting from the document, said that officers from the People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of Public Security had approached British businesspeople at trade fairs and exhibitions with offers of “gifts” that included cameras and computer memory sticks that were found to contain bugs that provided the Chinese with remote access to recipients’ computers.

The document explicitly warned British executives dealing with China against so-called honey trap methods in which it said the Chinese tried to cultivate personal relationships, “often using lavish hospitality and flattery,” either within China or abroad.

“Chinese intelligence services have also been known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressurize individuals to cooperate with them,” it warned.

“Hotel rooms in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai which have been frequented by foreigners are likely to be bugged. Hotel rooms have been searched while the occupants are out of the room.”