Is China behind the biggest cyber attack yet?, a Srilankan article...

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    72 organisations including the UN and governments around the world hacked
    Security company McAfee says it believes there is one 'state actor' behind the attacks

    By Daniel Bates

    A British defence contractor was amongst the targets of the world's largest ever cyber attack, thought to have been carried out by China. Hackers tried to infiltrate the unidentified company to find out sensitive military secrets during an unprecedented five year worldwide campaign, according to a report.
    A total of 72 national governments and well known companies along with bodies such as the International Olympic Committee all fell victim to the operation.

    Experts said the most probable culprit was the Chinese government which has recently been blamed for cyber campaigns against the International Monetary Fund and Sony. The scale of the operation -- which covered 14 countries -- has stunned American computer security company McAfee, which discovered it.
    'This is the biggest transfer of wealth in terms of intellectual property in history. The scale at which this is occurring is really, really frightening,' Dmitri Alperovitch, the security company's vice president of threat research said.

    'Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organisations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators'. McAfee dubbed the hacking 'Operation Shady RAT', or remote access tool, referring to a kind of computer software used to infiltrate networks.

    In addition to the British defence contractor, a computer security company from Britain was also hit but neither has been identified. Amongst the other victims which have publicly been named are the World Anti-doping Agency, the United Nations, the Associated Press news agency and ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation which counts Singapore amongst its members.

    The U.S. was hacked the most -- 49 times -- followed by Canada four times and South Korea three times. Britain was affected twice. The data stolen included e-mail archives, design schematics, legal contracts and government secrets.


    McAfee said the hacking dates back to the middle of 2006 although there may still be intrusions which it has not yet detected. The attacks lasted from a matter of weeks to a sustained 28-month attack against an Olympic committee of an unidentified Asian nation.

    The operation worked by sending an e-mail which when opened downloaded a malicious programme onto an individual's computer which allowed an intruder to gain access to their network and remove data.

    McAfee learned of the operation last March when it gained access to one of the hackers' servers and began notifying companies which had been affected and working with them to improve their security systems.

    James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there was only one country that could be responsible for the attack. 'The most likely candidate is China,' he said.

    'Who else spies on Taiwan?'

    China has long been suspected as being the world's leader in cyber espionage. Mr Lewis added: 'Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia'.
    There was no comment from China on the report.

    Britain's Ministry of Defence, one of the prime targets, was alone the victim of more than 1,000 cyber attacks last year.

    £21 billion damage

    Last year, cyber crime cost the British economy £21billion according to one industry report, but it is widely accepted that the figure could be much higher.

    In 2009, a foreign intelligence agency infiltrated the Pentagon's £200billion Joint Strike Fighter project, the U.S. defence department's costliest weapons programme in history. Cyber spies stole data relating to the aircraft's design and electronic system. Officials said the attacks appeared to originate from China.
    Google, the Pentagon, Chinese dissidents, and the oil industry have also been hit.

    Earlier this year it emerged the IMF was the victim of a 'very major' cyber attack in which it could have lost extremely sensitive data on the finances of dozens of nations. Mr Alperovitch declined to name the companies which were targeted and would only go so far as to blame a 'nation state' for the operation.
    'What is happening to all this data … is still largely an open question.

    'However, if even a fraction of it is used to build better competing products or beat a competitor at a key negotiation the loss represents a massive economic threat. 'Companies and government agencies are getting raped and pillaged every day. They are losing economic advantage and national secrets to unscrupulous competitors.'

    International Olympic Committee communications director Mark Adams said that if the allegations of hacking were true they would be 'disturbing'.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2011

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