A senior FBI official warned secretaries of state from across the US Thursday that Chinese hackers pose a “growing threat” and said their willingness to target the infrastructure of political parties ahead of the 2022 election demonstrates that “we could see more significant Chinese cyber activity against your states in the coming year.”
Chinese state backed-hackers are part of “a sea of things we’re concerned” about, Cynthia Kaiser, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, said at a National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Washington, DC.
In the weeks before the 2022 midterm elections, Chinese hackers scanned US political parties’ IT systems in possible reconnaissance for follow-on hacking, prompting the FBI to brief both parties, CNN and the Washington Post previously reported.
It was unclear if there were any compromises from the activity, which may have been the sort of routine espionage that state actors often conduct ahead of elections.
The FBI’s concerns about Chinese cyber-espionage come amid broader tensions with Beijing over an alleged Chinese spy balloon that the US military shot down February 4.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington denied Kaiser’s allegations in a statement to CNN Thursday night.
“We do not encourage, support or connive at cyber attacks,” the Chinese Embassy said in its statement, which accused the US government of conducting its own hacking campaigns.
Kaiser gave the warning about Chinese hacking in remarks to election officials that covered potential threats from Russia, Iran and cybercriminals to US state and local networks, including election infrastructure.
The potential for Russia to target state and local computer systems remains a “significant concern” for US officials, Kaiser said.
“We don’t have any intelligence that Russia is looking to target state and local or election systems more directly than before,” she added. “But we’re certainly aware of … the possibility and have a very low threshold for sharing that information.”
The 2022 midterm elections drew some attempts at foreign meddling, including online influence operations, US officials say, but nothing that prevented people from voting or altered their votes.
Domestic unrest in Iran and Russia’s war in Ukraine may have distracted Tehran and Moscow from making more of an effort to influence or interfere in the 2022 US midterm election, a top US military cyber official told reporters in December.
The FBI has accused Beijing of having a bigger hacking program than all other countries combined. China routinely denies such allegations.
In separate activity, the US Secret Service in December accused Chinese government-linked hackers of stealing at least $20 million in US government coronavirus relief by raiding unemployment insurance funds and Small Business Administration loan money.
The FBI believes that activity was done for the “financial benefit” of the Chinese hackers, Kaiser said Thursday.
“But both things can be true: They can conduct a campaign because they want to make money, but they can also share that [information] back with the Chinese government,” Kaiser told election officials.
This story has been updated with additional details.
This content was originally published here.