Report: Chinese hackers targeted big oil companies, stole data
Several oil companies were targets of hackers seeking 'proprietary' data about global oil finds, cyber security firm AcAfee reported Thursday. All evidence points to cyber spies in China, it says.
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Neither Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, nor ConocoPhillips realized the extent of cyberespionage attacks that hit them in 2008, until the FBI alerted them that year and in early 2009, the Monitor reported last year. Some key oil company data were detected flowing from one oil company computer to a computer in China, according to documents obtained by the Monitor.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite such warnings, “the oil and natural gas security community has been so far too focused on meeting security guidelines and not enough attention was given to protecting their systems against the virulent new attacks,” writes Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute, a computer security training company, in an e-mail interview. “But they are awakening.”
There is no indication at this time that any of the three companies cited in the earlier Monitor report are connected with the newly reported “Night Dragon” incident.
Though the Night Dragon attacks focused on the energy sector, the tools and techniques they employed could be used against many other industries, McAfee said.
Indeed, last year Google announced that it and dozens of other high-tech companies had been hacked by the Chinese – and that its source code had been a target. Such attacks appear to be part of a large, coordinated effort by some countries to target US proprietary data, experts say.
“Any country that wants to support and develop an indigenous industry may very well use cyberespionage to help do that,” Greg Garcia, assistant secretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security under the Bush administration, told the Monitor last year.
The aim: theft of data and intellectual property
The McAfee report said these kinds of attacks focus more and more "not on using and abusing machines within the organizations being compromised, but rather on the theft of specific data and intellectual property.”
In the end, McAfee traced the command-and-control signals to computer servers owned by a single person in Heze City, Shandong Province, China. His company, according to its advertisements, provides ”Hosted Servers in the U.S. with no records kept” for just $10 a year for 100 MB of space. The company’s US-based leased servers were used to host the command-and-control software “that controlled machines across the victim companies,” the report said.
“Although we don’t believe this individual is the mastermind behind these attacks, it is likely this person is aware or has information that can help identify at least some of the individuals, groups, or organizations responsible for these intrusions,” McAfee said.
All of the data removal occurred as a result of commands coming “from Beijing-based IP addresses and operated inside the victim companies weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Beijing time,” the report said. That “suggests that the involved individuals were ‘company men’ working on a regular job, rather than freelance or unprofessional hackers.” Other experts agree.
“We’ve seen across many industries in recent months a very target type of attack,” Rob Lee, a computer forensics expert and director at Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm in Alexandria, Va., told the Monitor last year. “These are professionals [working in teams], not people doing this at night.”