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MoD Payroll Hack: Defence Secretary Names Contractor as SSCL Amid Allegations of Chinese Cyber Attack

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Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has revealed the identity of the contractor managing the MoD payroll system that was compromised by a hack attributed to China, according to Sky News. China has refuted these allegations, labeling them as "completely fabricated."

By Faye Brown and Alix Culbertson, political correspondents

Tuesday, May 7, 2024, 7:

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has announced the identity of the contractor managing the Ministry of Defence's payroll system that was compromised in a cyberattack attributed to China.

Mr. Shapps informed the parliament that Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL) is the contractor under review by the government after the recent cyber attack, an incident China has refuted involvement in.

Politics Live: Unnamed 'hostile entity' responsible for MoD breach, government declines to identify China

The government official initially refrained from identifying the firm managing the payroll but informed members of parliament that there are indications of "possible shortcomings" that "could have facilitated access for the harmful entity" to obtain the banking information of military members and veterans.

In a rebuttal, John Healey, Labour's shadow defence secretary, asserted that the government must address "numerous critical inquiries." He further stated that Shared Services Connected Ltd is in charge of managing key payroll and other business services for the MOD under contract.

Mr. Shapps responded, "The contractor he mentioned, SSCL, is indeed the correct one."

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"I have asked the Cabinet Office to conduct a comprehensive assessment of their activities throughout the government and inside the Ministry of Defence, which has already begun."

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Sky News reported yesterday evening that the Chinese government had breached the payroll system of the Armed Forces.

China has described the allegations as "entirely false and spiteful libel."

The hack revealed the personal information, including names, addresses, and banking information, of active members and some veterans from the Army, Royal Navy, and RAF.

SSCL operates as a branch of Sopra Steria, a technology firm headquartered in Paris. It stands as the leading supplier of business support solutions to the UK government, military, and the Metropolitan Police Service.

According to its website, the organization offers payroll, HR, and pension services to 230,000 active military members and reservists, as well as two million veterans. It assures a completely safe and secure service, with data protection at the highest standard.

Earlier, Rishi Sunak declined to directly label China as the perpetrator of cyberattacks but noted that Beijing operates under "fundamentally different values from ours," and is behaving in a manner that is increasingly authoritarian and aggressive internationally.

Government participation should not be dismissed

Addressing the members of Parliament, Mr. Shapps mentioned that the possibility of "state involvement" in the incident remains open, though he refrained from specifically mentioning China. He noted that the identity of the suspected party could not be disclosed due to concerns over national security.

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Ex-leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, expressed to Sophy Ridge on Politics Hub that there is a reluctance to openly acknowledge China's true nature.

He mentioned that under the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, there is an option to classify them in the enhanced tier, indicating they pose a threat. He strongly advised the government to take this action swiftly.

The choice to omit mentioning Beijing faced criticism from ex-armed forces minister Mark Francois, who urged the government to confront China.

He informed the House of Commons, "This situation will cause great concern among service members, their families, and veterans.

"They will feel slighted because it appears that the government initially indicated that China was involved overnight, but then lacked the courage to affirm this in the parliamentary session today, presumably because someone from the Foreign Office intervened and advised against it."

Mr. Shapps stated that the government took all possible measures to prevent any premature disclosure of the hacking incident until he could address parliament. He emphasized that the priority was to shut down the system and guarantee that staff received their salaries before discussing the matter in the legislature.

"We definitely had no intention of publicizing or discussing the story. However, given the high number of individuals potentially affected, it was nearly inevitable that people would learn about it and then speak on it. I think that is how it became known to the public."

Further Reading:

Officials appear unusual as the government refrains from openly identifying Beijing as a threat.

Beijing represents a 'persistent' risk to cybersecurity in Western nations.

He stated: "A comprehensive inquiry has been initiated, with assistance from the Cabinet Office and the input of external experts, to investigate the contractor's possible shortcomings and reduce the likelihood of such events occurring again."

Mr. Shapps revealed that as many as 272,000 military personnel could have been impacted by the data breach and outlined an eight-point strategy to assist and safeguard those who might be affected.

Preliminary inquiries indicate that there is no proof of data being extracted, yet as a safety measure, the impacted military members have been notified.

Mr. Shapps emphasized that the payment network operates independently and is not connected to the MoD's main network.

He expressed regret to "the individuals impacted by this incident," acknowledging that "this should never have occurred."

A representative from the Chinese embassy in London refuted claims linking China to a hack of the Ministry of Defense, stating that the embassy had already addressed these allegations on March 25 and 27.

He charged the UK with making cyber security a political issue and asserted that there was no concrete proof of China's involvement in hacking the Ministry of Defence.

Sky News has reached out to SSCL and Sopra Steria seeking their response.

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