February 10, 2011

Chinese Hackers Target Western Oil Companies


Hackers are at it again, this time operating from China and stealing sensitive information from Western oil companies.

The attacks, which were “coordinated, covert and targeted,” began in November of 2009 and targeted oil and gas company computers in the United States, Taiwan, Greece and Kazakhstan, according to United States security firm McAfee (News - Alert) Inc. The companies were not identified in the report.

"We have identified the tools, techniques, and network activities used in these continuing attacks — which we have dubbed Night Dragon — as originating primarily in China," said the report.

Last month, Google (News - Alert) had to deal with instances of Chinese cyber attacks, including hackers attempting to access the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists around the world.

This is not a new problem in China, however, as the Chinese government made a total of 460 arrests of computer hackers in 2010.

“China's Ministry of Public Security has described the hacker situation in the country as very grim and, whilst it observes that a number of computers in companies have little or no effective security measures, it really does illustrate the scale of the problem," said Claire Sellick, event director for Infosecurity Europe, in a statement.

In fact, China appears to be leading the race in Internet crime, according to security consultants. Crime ranges from e-mail cyber attacks to industrial spying aimed at major companies. Because of the high skill level of earlier attacks, consultants believe that China's military, a leader in cyberwarfare research, or other government agencies might be stealing technology and trade secrets to help state companies.

The Chinese government has denied its involvement in the hacking.

So how are hackers getting their job done? According to United States, German and Britain officials, hackers that are linked to China's military are using those connections to break into government and defense systems, the Associated Press (News - Alert) reports. Hackers work through servers in the United States and the Netherlands and take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system, according to McAfee.

Earlier this month, China was not alone with hacking problems as Egyptian government Web sites were targeted, causing them to go offline. The attacks were apparently coordinated by the loosely-organized group calling itself "Anonymous," according to the Associated Press said.


Carrie Schmelkin is a Web Editor for TMCnet. Previously, she worked as Assistant Editor at the New Canaan Advertiser, a 102-year-old weekly newspaper, covering news and enhancing the publication’s social media initiaitives. Carrie holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s degree in English from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin
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