Britain is wasting time asking China to stop cyber attacks, former UN commander and Tory MP Bob Stewart has said.
Computer hacking can be deadlier than a gun said ex-army colonel Bob Stewart, warning knocking out electricity supplies via the National Grid would be a priority target for hackers.
And he claimed allowing Chinese firm Huawei, suspected of having links to the Chinese Communist Party, to establish the UK's cyber security evaluation centre might be "setting a thief to catch that same thief", though he admitted his claims about Huawei could not be verified without access to classified documents.
"We are actually wasting our time on asking China to stop hacking into our systems. Of course the Chinese will deny that they're doing it and they'll do that until they're blue in the face,” he said speaking in the Commons.
"We should be in no doubt that systematic and state-organised hacking is a massive Chinese industry, and we better wake up to that.
"I'm pretty sure that our security services are very well aware of this threat but the public also has got to be made well aware of it so, in other words, we can get the funding to do what we can to counter this threat.
"Let me be absolutely clear – hacking can be more deadly than a gun. Cyber warfare could bring our society to its knees, taken to its logical conclusion.
"Almost nothing works without electricity – light, energy, traffic control on the ground and in the air, hospitals, police and even sewerage. Undoubtedly the National Grid would be a priority one target for someone wishing to reduce us to our knees."
Stewart said Huawei was suspected of having close links with the Chinese Communist Party and government, and was now providing "crucial" equipment for the UK's national telecommunications system.
He said: "That same company has been debarred from doing so in the United States because it could not prove it did not have strong links to the Chinese leadership."
Referring to a Defence Select Committee paper, the MP explained three areas where the company presented a security risk were identified.
Stewart said: "Firstly, the company could insert undetected what he (Chris Donnelly) called malware into its equipment, either to disable the system at will or at least to monitor it. Secondly, there is a possible security risk from the Chinese managers and technicians who man the system.
"And thirdly, allowing Huawei to dominate the field takes away our sovereign ability to deal with the matters ourselves and recently there has been growing concern that our national counter cyber security systems might not be able to detect whether malware has been inserted into the system."
Told by Tory James Gray there was currently no evidence that Huawei was acting as an agent or foreign force, Stewart replied: "I'm not sure you're right. It's a question really. After all, Huawei have been involved in setting up our cyber security evaluation centre.
"It offered its services at knockdown prices. No Western firm could match them and our economy was, and is, in a poor position to resist the temptation of accepting what looked like a very good deal.
"So, we could be setting a thief to catch that same thief. Of course, the suspicions I voice may be erroneous and our counter cyber security services could be totally on top of this one. But without access to classified information, I have no way of checking this.”