The US government on Wednesday said that a hacking group widely known as cloudhopper, which Western cybersecurity firms have linked to the Chinese government, has launched attacks on technology service providers in a campaign to steal data from their clients.
The US Department of Homeland Security issued a technical alert for cloudhopper, which it said was engaged in cyberespionage and theft of intellectual property, after experts with two prominent US cybersecurity companies earlier this week said that Chinese hacking activity has surged amid an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly denied claims by Western cybersecurity firms that it supports hacking.
The department released the information to support US companies in responding to attacks by the group, which is targeting information technology, energy, healthcare, communications and manufacturing firms.
“These cyberthreat actors are still active and we strongly encourage our partners in government and industry to work together to defend against this threat,” department National Protection and Programs Directorate Undersecretary Christopher Krebs said in a statement.
The reported increase in Chinese hacking follows what cybersecurity firms have described as a lull in such attacks prompted by a 2015 agreement between Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and former US president Barack Obama to curb cyberenabled economic theft.
“I can tell you now unfortunately the Chinese are back,” Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of US cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, said on Tuesday at a security conference in Washington.
“We’ve seen a huge pickup in activity over the past year and a half. Nowadays they are the most predominant threat actors we see threatening institutions all over this country and western Europe,” he said.
Analysts with FireEye, another US cybersecurity firm, said that some of the Chinese hacking groups it tracks have become more active in recent months.
Wednesday’s alert provided advice on how US firms can prevent, identify and remediate attacks by cloudhopper, which is also known as Red Leaves and APT10.
The hacking group has largely targeted firms known as managed service providers (MSPs), which supply telecom, technology and other services to businesses around the globe.
MSPs are attractive targets, because their networks provide routes for hackers to access sensitive systems of their many clients, FireEye senior intelligence manager Ben Read said.
“We’ve seen this group route malware through an MSP network to other targets,” Read said.
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