Chinese hackers, likely state-sponsored, have been broadly targeting government and private-sector organizations across Southeast Asia, including those closely involved with Beijing on infrastructure development projects, a report released on Wednesday by a US-based private cybersecurity company said.
Specific targets included the Thai prime minister’s office and the Thai army, the Indonesian and Philippine navies, Vietnam’s National Assembly and the central office of its Communist Party, and Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense, said Insikt Group, the threat research division of Massachusetts-based Recorded Future.
Insikt said it determined that the high-profile military and government organizations in Southeast Asia had been compromised over the past nine months by hackers using custom malware families such as FunnyDream and Chinoxy.
Those custom tools are not publicly available and are used by multiple groups believed to be sponsored by China, the group said.
The targeting also aligns with the political and economic goals of the Chinese government, bolstering the suspicion it is state-sponsored, Insikt said.
“We believe this activity is highly likely to be a state actor, as the observed long-term targeted intrusions into high-value government and political targets is consistent with cyberespionage activity, coupled with identified technical links to known Chinese state-sponsored activity,” it said.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
In the past, Chinese authorities have consistently denied any form of state-sponsored hacking, instead saying that China itself is a major target of cyberattacks.
Of the cyberintrusions it tracked, Insikt Group said Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam were the top three targeted countries. Also targeted were Myanmar, the Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia.
All countries were notified in October of the findings, although it is thought that at least some of the activity is ongoing, the company said.
“Throughout 2021, Insikt Group tracked a persistent cyberespionage campaign targeting the prime minister’s offices, military entities, and government departments of rival South China Sea claimants Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines,” the company said. “Additional victims during the same period include organizations in Indonesia and Thailand.”
Much of that campaign was attributed to a group being tracked under the temporary identifier Threat Activity Group 16, or TAG-16, Insikt Group said.
“We also identified evidence suggesting that TAG-16 shares custom capabilities with the [Chinese] People’s Liberation Army-linked activity group RedFoxtrot,” the group said.
Overall, Insikt Group said it had identified more than 400 unique servers in Southeast Asia communicating with malware, but it was not clear what information had been compromised.
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