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Massive leak shows China firm hacked foreign governments

Agence France-Presse
Massive leak shows China firm hacked foreign governments
Artist's rendition of hacking
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

BEIJING – A Chinese tech security firm was able to breach foreign governments, infiltrate social media accounts and hack personal computers, a massive data leak analyzed by experts this week revealed.

The trove of documents from I-Soon, a private company that competed for Chinese government contracts, shows that its hackers compromised more than a dozen governments, according to cybersecurity firms SentinelLabs and Malwarebytes.

I-Soon also breached “democracy organizations” in China’s semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, universities and the NATO military alliance, SentinelLabs researchers wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

The leaked data, the contents of which Agence France Presse was unable to immediately verify, was posted last week on the online software repository GitHub by an unknown individual.

“The leak provides some of the most concrete details seen publicly to date, revealing the maturing nature of China’s cyber espionage ecosystem,” SentinelLabs analysts said.

I-Soon was able to breach government offices in India, Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea, among others, Malwarebytes said in a separate post on Wednesday.

I-Soon’s website was not available Thursday morning, though an internet archive snapshot of the site from Tuesday says it is based in Shanghai, with subsidiaries and offices in Beijing, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

The firm did not reply to a request for comment.

Asked by AFP on Thursday about whether Beijing contracted hackers, China’s foreign ministry said it was “not aware” of the case.

“As a principle, China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattacks and cracks down on them in accordance with law,” spokesperson Mao Ning said.

The leak contains hundreds of files showing chatlogs, presentations and lists of targets.

AFP found what appeared to be lists of Thai and UK government departments among the leaks, as well as screenshots of attempts to log into an individual’s Facebook account.

Other screenshots showed arguments between an employee and a supervisor over salaries, as well as a document describing software aimed at accessing a target’s Outlook emails.

“As demonstrated by the leaked documents, third-party contractors play a significant role in facilitating and executing many of China’s offensive operations in the cyber domain,” SentinelLabs analysts said.

In one screenshot of a chat app conversation, someone describes a client request for exclusive access to the “foreign secretary’s office, foreign ministry’s ASEAN office, prime minister’s office national intelligence agency” and other government departments of an unnamed country.

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