Online attackers with clear links to China are behind a vast cyber espionage campaign targeting government agencies of interest to Beijing, Google subsidiary Mandiant said on Thursday.
“This is the broadest cyber espionage campaign known to be conducted by a China-nexus threat actor since the mass exploitation of Microsoft Exchange in early 2021,” said Mandiant chief technology officer Charles Carmakal.
The cyber attackers compromised computer defenses of hundreds of organizations, in some cases stealing “emails of prominent employees dealing in matters of interest to the Chinese government,” Carmakal added.
Mandiant reported having “high confidence” that a group referred to as UNC4841 was behind a wide-ranging espionage campaign “in support of the People’s Republic of China.”
The hackers targeted victims in at least 16 different countries, striking organizations in the public and private sectors worldwide, the report said.
The targeting focused on issues of high policy importance to the Chinese government, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and Taiwan, according to the report.
Victims included foreign ministries as well as research organizations and foreign trade missions based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Mandiant said in its findings.
Cyber attacks involved email messages booby-trapped with malicious code, and exploited a vulnerability in Barracuda software for screening such missives to make sure they are safe, according to the report.
The cyber espionage activity was detected in May, and is believed to have started as early as October of last year.
“We continue to see evidence of ongoing malware activity” on some systems that were compromised, Barracuda Networks told AFP.
The 2021 hack of Microsoft Exchange, which security researchers attributed to a Beijing-backed hacker group, affected at least 30,000 organizations in the United States including businesses and local governments.
In an apparently unrelated cyber attack, CNN reported Thursday that several US federal agencies had been caught in a Russian group’s hack of the commonly used MOVEit software.
When asked for comment by AFP, the White House pointed to an alert issued last week by the FBI and CISA, the federal government’s lead cybersecurity agency, to information on how to mitigate the threat.