Image: Dovydas Zilinskas via Unsplash

Lithuania warns China has ramped up espionage campaigns

China has escalated its intelligence сampaigns against Lithuania, recruiting local spies and using cyber tools to gather information on the country's internal affairs and foreign policy, according to a new report released by Lithuanian security services.

Their activity in the country’s cyberspace has especially increased since 2021 when Lithuania announced the opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office — Taiwan’s de facto embassy. China called this move an “extremely egregious act” and withdrew its ambassador to Lithuania from Vilnius.

“The significantly reduced capabilities of the Chinese diplomatic mission and unfavorable counter-intelligence regime in Lithuania have restricted the ability of Chinese intelligence services to collect information in the country or directly influence its socio-political affairs,” the report said.

“As a result, Chinese intelligence services are concentrating on developing an agency in Lithuania and collecting intelligence from Chinese territory.”

To identify individuals suited for espionage on the ground, Chinese intelligence officers are using social networks, Lithuanian authorities say. They often masquerade as representatives of various companies or think tanks when approaching targets, offering financial incentives for information.

China is primarily interested in individuals with direct access to sensitive information or a broad network of contacts among state officials, politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and scientists. Selected spies are typically invited to travel to China, where they receive payment and are given new intelligence assignments.

Previously, Beijing was mostly interested in information about Lithuania’s role in the European Union and NATO, the report said, but now it is also actively seeking information about the country’s internal affairs, political divisions, and foreign policy.

They expect Chinese intelligence services to attempt to gather information on the Lithuanian presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, as well as the European Parliament election, when the citizens of each member state vote for their representatives.

On top of its recruitment of spies, Chinese special services have also stepped up cyber-espionage campaigns against Lithuania. Threat actors linked to China regularly scan the country’s networks for vulnerabilities, aiming to breach them and exfiltrate data, the report said.

Given China’s increased interest in Lithuania, its previous “opportunistic activities” in cyberspace — mostly directed against the private sector — have been replaced by an active and coordinated effort to gain access to the information systems of Lithuanian institutions for cyber espionage, according to the report.

“It is highly likely that Russian and Chinese cyber capabilities will remain a threat to the security of information networks and systems of Lithuanian institutions and critical infrastructure,” the country’s security officials said.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.