EU firms among targets in epic-scale hack

03.08.11 @ 09:16

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - An unnamed state actor, believed by some experts to be China, has plundered data from three EU companies, on top of 69 other victims worldwide.

  • McAfee: 'I divide the entire set of Fortune Global 2000 firms into two categories: those that know they’ve been compromised and those that don’t yet know' (Photo: *n3wjack's world in pixels)

US-based cyber security firm McAfee uncovered the operation, which it has dubbed Shady RAT, by accessing a command server used by the intruders, and published its results in a 14-page study on Tuesday (2 August).

RAT is short for Remote Access Tool, a type of software.

McAfee declined to name the companies affected, but said a Danish satellite communications firm, a German accounting company and a UK computer security firm were among the victims. Each of the companies was effectively being burgled for between eight and 12 months at a time in the 2008 and 2009 period without their knowledge.

The majority of the victims were US defence companies (12 in total) and US government agencies (12). Asian targets - in India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam - were also hit. The hacks took place between 2006 and 2011.

McAfee suspects a state actor because much of the stolen information has political rather than commercial value - Asean, the International Olympic Committee, the UN, political think-tanks, the Hong Kong office of Associated Press and pro-democracy NGOs were penetrated as well.

"The interest in the information held at the Asian and Western national Olympic Committees, as well as the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency in the lead-up and immediate follow-up to the 2008 Olympics [in Beijing] was particularly intriguing and potentially pointed a finger at a state actor behind the intrusions," McAfee's vice-president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch, wrote in the study.

Other experts were less shy about naming China.

Jim Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Reuters that China, Russia, the UK and the US have the capacity to carry out such an operation.

"Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia ... We wouldn't spy on ourselves and the Brits wouldn't spy on us," he said.