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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid