LABScon Replay | The Cyber Arm of China’s Soft Power: Reshaping a Continent

In his keynote at LABScon23, SentinelLabs’ Principal Threat Researcher Tom Hegel addressed a crucial but often overlooked aspect of global cybersecurity: cyber threat activity in less-monitored regions, particularly Africa.

Focusing on China’s strategic use of soft power across the African continent, Hegel provides a compelling analysis of how technology and investments are wielded as tools of influence and control.

Highlighting its significant investments in key sectors, Hegel explores how China has established strategic influence in African telecommunications, finance, and surveillance sectors and the implications this has for cybersecurity.

While noting that such investments are attractive to African countries for their undoubted benefits, the talk raises concerns about the trade offs. In the realm of telecommunications, Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE can be linked to potential cases of surveillance and control, evidenced by actions like internet clampdowns in Zimbabwe during politically sensitive times. In finance, an intricate web of financial engagements provide worrying opportunities for cyber espionage. Initiatives like the Safe City projects bring technological advancements but at the potential price of civil and political surveillance.

Hegel concludes with a call to action for the cybersecurity community. The importance of collaborative efforts in monitoring and understanding the cyber activities in these regions is essential not only for the direct protection of entities in undermonitored areas but also for a broader understanding of the global cyber threat landscape.

Connecting the dots between regional cybersecurity issues in Africa and their global repercussions, this talk advocates for a more inclusive view of global cyber threats, highlighting the need for a unified and informed response from the cybersecurity community.

Watch below to see the full talk. Read the accompanying research paper for an even deeper dive.

About the Presenter

Tom Hegel is a Principal Threat Researcher with SentinelOne. He comes from a background of detection and analysis of malicious actors, malware, and global events with an application to the cyber domain. His past research has focused on threats impacting individuals and organizations across the world, primarily targeted attackers.

About LABScon

This presentation was featured live at LABScon 2023, an immersive 3-day conference bringing together the world’s top cybersecurity minds, hosted by SentinelOne’s research arm, SentinelLabs.