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Britain warns businesses of Chinese 'honey trap'

Sex, spies, and memory sticks

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Britain's MI5 security service has accused the Chinese government of engaging in an unusually wide-ranging campaign to breach UK business computer networks, in some cases exploiting sexual relationships to pressure individuals to cooperate.

The so-called "honey trap" methods were aimed at business executives at trade shows and exhibitions and involved offers of "lavish hospitality and flattery," according to an article in The Sunday Times. The New York Times quickly confirmed the report. The effort also involved the giving of digital cameras and memory sticks designed to surreptitiously install malware on users' PCs.

The Sunday Times cited a 14-page document titled "The Threat from Chinese Espionage" that was prepared in 2008 by MI5's Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure. A "restricted" version of the document was distributed to hundreds of British financial institutions and businesses. It described attacks on British defense, energy, communications, and manufacturing companies. It specifically named the Chinese government as engaging in the honey trap campaigns.

"Chinese intelligence services have also been known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressurize individuals to cooperate with them," it stated. "Hotel rooms in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai which have been frequented by foreigners are likely to be bugged. Hotel rooms have been searched while the occupants are out of the room."

The report, which was issued more than a year ago, followed an earlier MI5 letter distributed in late 2007 that warned some 300 leaders of British businesses to be on the lookout for state-sponsored Chinese hackers carrying out electronic surveillance attacks. ®

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