Hackers linked to Chinese government invaded US state networks, security firm says


Hackers linked to China’s Ministry of State Security have spent many of the final yr infiltrating and shifting freely by means of state government networks throughout the United States, in accordance to a report by the cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

Released on Tuesday, the report says that the hacking group generally known as APT41, whose members are already sought by the FBI for allegedly engaged on behalf of Beijing to conduct cyberattacks, started concentrating on at the very least six state governments beginning final spring, and had not let up by means of the tip of February.

“This is a pretty unique switch,” Rufus Brown, a ​​senior risk analyst at Mandiant and the lead creator of the report, mentioned concerning the assaults. “Since May 2021, we’ve seen them just continuously hammer these state governments.”

“It’s very persistent, very continuous, and they keep coming back for whatever they want,” he mentioned. “We likely assess that there are more states affected.”

US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen announcing charges on September 16, 2020, related to a computer intrusion campaign by the APT41 hacking group, which has ties to the Chinese government. Photo: EPA-EFE

Brown declined to disclose which states have been attacked. The National Governors Association didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

It is unclear what or how a lot info APT41 may need stolen from the varied state companies, however the attackers jumped from division to division, and in at the very least one occasion stole a batch of non-public figuring out info, Brown mentioned.

The report mentioned that the hackers additionally focused a Microsoft-based agriculture database utilized by 18 states to doc livestock well being, generally known as USAHerds.

The National Agribusiness Technology Centre, the organisation that runs the USAHerds community, didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

And when a worldwide software program bug generally known as the “log4j vulnerability” was made public late final yr – described by a prime US cybersecurity official as “the most serious vulnerability I have seen in my decades-long career” – the hackers took lower than two days to start utilizing it to goal the state governments, Mandiant reported.

“Stopping them is very hard,” mentioned Brown. “The only thing that really is going to help this is arresting the individuals.”

The cyberattacks in opposition to the state governments come as prime leaders in China have spoken lately about sustaining shut ties with particular person states – a kind of counterbalance to Beijing’s deteriorating relationship with Washington.

Chinese chief Xi Jinping mentioned in 2020 that his nation ought to work with “American states, local councils and businesses”.

Some state governors have expressed a willingness to preserve sturdy enterprise ties with China, whilst their counterparts in Washington criticise Beijing.

During the administration of former president Donald Trump, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned an affiliation of US governors to be cautious of Chinese affect and funding of their states.

“​​The competition with China is not just a federal issue,” he mentioned on the time.

In 2020, the US Department of Justice charged 5 Chinese nationals and members of the group APT41 with varied cybercrime offences, together with id theft, cash laundering and laptop violations.

The Justice Department mentioned on the time that one of many Chinese nationals charged had boasted that he was protected by the Ministry of State Security, China’s intelligence company.

Brown, whose firm started the investigation after it was contacted by one of many state governments about suspicious exercise in its community, mentioned that based mostly on his investigation, he had “100%” confidence that the assaults have been perpetrated by APT41.

Google’s mother or father firm Alphabet introduced on Tuesday that it was set to purchase Mandiant, which relies in Virgina, for about US$5.4bil (RM22.61bil).

China has denied for years that it has facilitated cyberattacks overseas, and says that it too is a sufferer of hacking.

On Saturday, in Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual government work report, he referred to as for China to “strengthen cybersecurity, data security, personal information protection”, in accordance to an official abstract.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday. Photo: Kyodo

Liu Pengyu, the spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, didn’t touch upon the main points of the Mandiant report, however mentioned that China opposes “making groundless accusations against China on cybersecurity and other related issues”.

In the previous, China has additionally been accused of hacking US federal government personnel information, navy contractors and information organisations; Washington stays suspicious about Beijing’s dedication to cybersecurity.

Observers have additionally expressed alarm over a Chinese legislation handed final yr, which orders corporations that discover digital vulnerabilities to inform Beijing first earlier than notifying any world cybersecurity organisations.

Mandiant’s report got here as US intelligence companies have been testifying to Congress about their annual “threat assessment” doc, which referred to as China “the broadest, most active, and persistent cyberespionage threat to US Government and private sector networks”.

“China almost certainly is capable of launching cyberattacks that would disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines and rail systems,” the doc mentioned. – South China Morning Post

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