Thu, Aug 04, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Massive cyber attacks uncovered: McAfee

‘OPERATION SHADY RAT’:The attacks took data from at least 72 victims, including Taiwan, the UN, the US, South Korea and Canada. Fingers are being pointed at China

Reuters, BOSTON

Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations, including the UN, governments and companies around the world.

Security company McAfee, which uncovered the intrusions, said it believed there was one “state actor” behind the attacks but declined to name it, though one security expert who has been briefed on the hacking said the evidence points to China.

The long list of victims in the five-year campaign include the governments of Taiwan, the US, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada, ASEAN, the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and an array of companies, from defense contractors to high-tech enterprises.

McAfee said hackers broke into the computer system of the UN’s secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data.

“Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators,” McAfee’s vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch, wrote in a 14-page report released yesterday.

“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 [due to having stolen the other team’s playbook], the loss represents a massive economic threat,” he wrote.

McAfee learned of the extent of the hacking campaign in March, when its researchers discovered logs of the attacks while reviewing the contents of a “command and control” server that they had discovered in 2009 as part of an investigation into security breaches at defense companies.

It dubbed the attacks “Operation Shady RAT” and said the earliest breaches date back to mid-2006, though there might have been other intrusions. (RAT stands for “remote access tool.) Some of the attacks lasted just a month, but the longest went on and off for 28 months, McAfee said.

“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,” Alperovitch said, adding McAfee had notified all 72 victims of the attacks.

Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was briefed on the hacking by McAfee, said it was very likely China was behind the campaign because some of the targets had information that would be of particular interest to Beijing.

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