Chinese state-sponsored threat groups have been conducting offensive cyber operations in Africa, targeting telecommunications, financial, and government organizations as part of China’s soft power agenda in the region. Cybersecurity firm SentinelOne has identified these activities, which aim to advance China’s interests and influence in Africa’s telecommunications sector and digital ecosystem.
One notable operation, dubbed “Tainted Love,” targeted Middle Eastern telecoms providers, and a similar threat actor, possibly linked to China’s APT41 group, was observed targeting a North African telecommunications organization. These activities align with China’s efforts to gain a competitive advantage, intelligence collection capabilities, and influence over Africa’s digital evolution.
SentinelOne has also been monitoring BackdoorDiplomacy, a China-linked advanced persistent threat (APT) group with a history of targeting African countries. Recent reports suggest that BackdoorDiplomacy may have targeted the Kenyan government to collect information related to debts owed to China.
Despite its origins in cyber operations focused on the Middle East, BackdoorDiplomacy has expanded its campaigns to include African nations like South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, and Ethiopia. Additionally, other China-linked threat actors, including FamousSparrow and Earth Estries, have been observed targeting Africa.
China’s investments in Africa’s telecommunications sector, led by companies like Huawei and ZTE, have created a significant dependence on Chinese technology. This strategy aims to integrate Africa into China’s digital ecosystem, providing the Chinese government with the ability to influence socio-political developments and personal freedoms across the continent.
SentinelOne emphasizes that China’s rise in Africa is not solely driven by economic motives but also serves China’s geostrategic ambitions, establishing it as a central force in Africa’s digital transformation. The cyber intrusions by groups like BackdoorDiplomacy and those involved in “Operation Tainted Love” reflect China’s intent to support its broader agendas in Africa.