News / Science & Technology

Researcher: Chinese Hackers Spied on Europeans Before G20 Meeting

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a media conference after a G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sept. 6, 2013.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a media conference after a G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sept. 6, 2013.
Reuters
Chinese hackers eavesdropped on the computers of five European foreign ministries before last September's G20 Summit, which was dominated by the Syrian crisis, according to research by computer security firm FireEye.
 
The hackers infiltrated the ministries' computer networks by sending emails to staff containing tainted files with titles such as “UStmilitarytoptionstintSyria,” said FireEye, which sells virus fighting technology to companies.
 
When recipients opened these documents, they loaded malicious code on to their personal computers.
 
For about a week in late August, California-based FireEye said its researchers were able to monitor the “inner workings” of the main computer server used by the hackers to conduct their reconnaissance and move across compromised systems.
 
FireEye lost access to the hackers after they moved to another server shortly before the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. FireEye said it believes the hackers were preparing to start stealing data just as the researchers lost access.
 
The U.S. company declined to identify the nations whose ministries were hacked, although it said they were all members of the European Union. FireEye said it reported the attacks to the victims through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
 
A spokeswoman for the FBI, Jenny Shearer, declined to comment.
 
“The theme of the attacks was U.S. military intervention in Syria,” said FireEye researcher Nart Villeneuve, one of six researchers who prepared the report. “That seems to indicate something more than intellectual property theft... The intent was to target those involved with the G20.”
 
The Sept. 5-6 G20 summit was dominated by discussion of the Syrian crisis, with some European leaders putting pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to hold off on taking military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Villeneuve said he was confident that the hackers were from China based on a variety of technical evidence, including the language used on their control server and the machines that they used to test their malicious code.
 
However, Villeneuve also admitted that he did not have any hard evidence that linked the hackers to the Chinese government. “All we have is technical data,” Villeneuve said, stressing the impossibility of coming to an absolute conclusion on technical data alone.
 
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China opposed any hacking activities.
 
“U.S. internet companies are keen on hyping up the so-called hacker threat from China, but they never obtain irrefutable proof, and what so-called evidence they do get is widely doubted by experts. This is neither professional nor responsible,” Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
 
One of Dozens
 
Western cybersecurity firms monitor several dozen hacking groups operating in China, most of which they suspect of having ties to the government. The firms also suspect the hacking groups of stealing intellectual property for commercial gain.
 
China has long denied those allegations, saying it is the victim of spying by the United States. Those claims gained some credibility after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began leaking documents about U.S. surveillance of foreign countries, including China.
 
FireEye said it had been following the hackers behind the Syria-related attack for several years, but this is the first time the group's activities have been publicly documented. The company calls the group “Ke3chang,” after the name of one of the files it uses in one of its pieces of malicious software.
 
FireEye said it believed the hackers dubbed the Syria-related campaign “moviestar” because that phrase was used as a tag on communications between infected computers and the hackers' command-and-control server.
 
In 2011, the group ran another operation dubbed “snake”, which enticed victims with a file that FireEye said contained nude pictures of Carla Bruni, the Italian-French singer, songwriter and model who in 2008 married then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
 
The host name for that campaign's command-and-control server contained the string “g20news”, which might indicate that it was related to the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Paris in 2011, FireEye said.
 
The email address used to send those malicious files had the phrase “consulate” in it, which also bolstered the possibility that the attack was politically motivated, Villeneuve said.
 
He said researchers only gathered evidence about “snake” through reviewing emails and malicious code. They did not have access to its command-and-control server, which they did in the case of the “moviestar” attack.

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid