Sophisticated Chinese cyber-espionage operation unveiled

A coalition of cyber security companies said Tuesday that a Chinese cyber-espionage syndicate is responsible for planting malicious software (malware) on computers owned by Western government agencies, private companies and human rights groups over the past six years, including the high-profile 2010 Aurora attack on Google.

The Axiom hacking group is believed to have ties to the Chinese government and be the most sophisticated cyber-espionage operation emanating from China, the coalition, which includes tech giants Microsoft and Cisco, said in a report.

“This is a great example of the capabilities of a well-funded adversary,” said Morgan Marquis-Boire, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, who worked at Google during the Aurora attack. “You see what is clearly a very professional group of people who are changing their tools, using sophisticated attacks, and being highly successful against a range of targets.”

The report comes as Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama prepare for successive visits to China over the next fortnight. It is expected they will broach the burgeoning cyber conflict between the U.S. and China. In recent years, the Obama Administration has made a point of calling out China on its alleged cyber spying, which includes the theft of U.S. trade secrets as well as a crackdown on political dissidents and journalists within the country, with Axiom playing a role.

U.S.-China tension was touched off in part by the Aurora attack, in which hackers who were believed to be based in China infiltrated Gmail servers to target Chinese dissidents. Google pointed the finger directly at the Chinese government, a claim that is supported by Tuesday’s report. Beijing has denied all such accusations.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Geng Shuang, said in an email Tuesday that while he had not read the coalition’s report, “judging from past experience, [these kinds] of reports or allegations are usually fictitious.”

He also pointed to the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance of both U.S. citizens and foreign governments – China included – as revealed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in a series of leaks. “The Chinese government has done whatever it can to combat..

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