Senior sources have warned Beijing is capable of launching devastating all-out attack by state-backed hackers amid growing tensions. The threat comes after it emerged Boris Johnson was planning a U-turn that would see Huawei booted off Britain’s superfast 5G mobile network programme.
Relations have also nosedived over Beijing’s imposition of draconian security laws in Hong Kong and London’s calls for an inquiry into the true source of coronavirus.
UK security sources warned state-sponsored cyber attacks could lead to to phone and power blackouts and bring hospitals, government and businesses to a halt.
Officials from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said they were not expecting an increase in attacks but with ministers believe there could be brutal retaliation if London stands up to Beijing.
One minister told the Mail on Sunday: “Obviously this is part of our conversations.
“But at the same time, all risk must be looked at in the round. Huawei is a menace and not acting on it risks national security.
“Actions, however, have consequences and they cannot be discounted.”
Shadow Minister Security Minister Conor McGinn said: “At this time of heightened tensions, the Government must be alert to the risk of cyber attacks from hostile states and prepare accordingly.
“Our critical national infrastructure should be ready and able to repel any such attack on the UK.”
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Mr Johnson is expected to set a deadline of 2025 for removing equipment made by China’s Huawei from the country’s 5G telecoms networks.
The company, described by critics in the US as part of the “military wing of the Chinese communist party”, is already blocked from the most sensitive parts of the system and the Government wants its complete removal within five years.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister, said: “Any notion that China can be trusted must surely have been dispelled following its initial – and disastrous – attempts to conceal the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The way of life we take for granted is under real threat.”
Canberra never named China as being responsible but officials concluded the attack was linked to tensions with Beijing. China has denied any involvement.
Global strategist Dr Alan Mendoza from the Henry Jackson Society foreign policy think-tank told the Mail on Sunday: “Far from being a benign friend, China is a strategic competitor with the means to strike at the heart of our infrastructure.
“China-proofing our critical systems must now become an urgent priority for the Government to avert a possible crisis.”