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MI5 warns over China hacking menace

PLA implicated in targeted Trojan assault

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MI5 has warned UK businesses of the threat posed by state-sponsored Chinese hackers. The UK security service has sent an advisory to banks and law firms warning them to guard against attack from "Chinese state organisations".

Jonathan Evans, the director-general of MI5, took the highly unusual step of writing to 300 UK chief executives and security chiefs to warn them of the "electronic espionage attacks". Rolls-Royce and Royal Dutch Shell have fallen victim during the assaults, The Times reports.

"Spying has been going on between countries for thousands of years, and it would be foolish to think that countries would not take advantage of computers and the internet to assist them in this," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.

"It is, however, unusual for a country to so openly accuse another of engaging in this activity - especially when it can be extraordinarily difficult to prove an attack is being sponsored by a government or is a lone hacker acting independently."

According to Sophos, 30 per cent of malware created comes from China. Chinese VXers specialise in creating Trojan horse software designed to steal login credentials of anything from online games to email accounts.

MI5 is far from the first western intelligence agency or government to blame China for an upsurge in hacking attacks against government computers.

In September, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) was blamed for an attack on a Pentagon computer system serving the office of US defense secretary Robert Gates. France, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand also pointed the finger of blame towards China following an upsurge in hacking activity.

The Chinese government has denied any involvement in the attacks, with officials painting the Asian giant as a victim of unidentified hackers.

Targeted malware-based attacks, often based on unpatched vulnerabilities and targeting government systems, have been ongoing for at least two years. The UK's National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) warned of targeted Trojan attacks against government computers back in late 2005. Most of the malware was thought to have originated from China. ®

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